This is a Sanibel story with the happiest of endings for Rodd Bell's family and Community Housing & Resources (CHR), the non-profit, private corporation which administers the Below Market Rate Housing program for the City of Sanibel.
In March, the Bell family moved into a CHR Limited Equity Ownership (LEO) home in Centre Place.
According to CHR board member Ray Pavelka, LEO offers all the typical benefits of home ownership, plus a guaranteed annual appreciation of 3 percent during the first 10 years. The below-market-rate purchase price is made possible through Coastal & Island Community Land Trust, a subsidiary of CHR, which owns the land, and through state and federal grant programs that offer low-interest mortgages.
Rodd Bell at home with his wife Gabriela and children Roddy and Valentina.
For nine years, Rodd Bell took daily care of his elderly parents in their Sanibel home. During that time, he and Gabriela, who was employed by the Sanibel-Captiva Community Bank in its McGregor Boulevard office, met and married, and the couple made their home in an apartment close to Sanibel. Two children arrived: Rodd Luis, now 2 1/2 years old, and Valentina Grace, 10 months.
With Valentina's arrival last fall, everything changed. As a stay-at-home dad, it was clear that Rodd's time for his parents was now limited. Rodd's father (who was to celebrate his 100th birthday this July) announced that he and Rodd's mother would like to return to Gloucester, Mass., to live. Then Gabriela's employer offered her a position at the Sanibel branch as head teller, a welcome promotion but with the downside of a longer commute.
As often happens, unexpected elements fell into place. Up north, family members were freed up to take on the care of the parents. Rodd's mother, always interested in Sanibel affairs, drew his attention to the CHR program, though he thought they would not qualify for a rental unit. Through connections at her bank, Gaby learned that the family might be a fit for the LEO program, developed by CHR to serve those outside the income parameters for renting.
In February 2012, with his parents safely delivered into the care of siblings in Massachusetts, Rodd and Gaby sat down with Pavelka, who provided clear direction through the process of qualifying and, Rodd says, made "no false promises." Hurdles included extensive paperwork and requirements set by the grant-providing entities, such as completing a homebuyer education class through Lee County's Housing Development Corporation in Fort Myers.
The Bells also needed to come up with closing costs, which vary but are typically 1 to 1.25 percent of the purchase price. The stars that had begun to align with Valentina's arrival did not let them down. The couple met every requirement, closed on the home on March 20 and, with more help from family, moved in before the end of the month.
"I can't begin to tell you how lucky we feel," Rodd said. "Our home is gorgeous, well designed and extremely well built. I know because I worked as a carpenter for years. This program is a wonderful thing for CHR and the City of Sanibel to have done, and it should be a model for other communities."
Centre Place, which comprises 14 units in seven duplex buildings, officially opened in the spring of 2010. A hidden jewel right in the middle of the island, it is becoming a very special community, particularly for families like the Bells who work on the island and will send their children to The Sanibel School.
CHR has a total of 14 LEO units, eight in Centre Place and six more in two other locations, Beach Road and Sanibel Highlands. Of the 14 units, 13 have been sold and the final sale is pending, according to Patti Bohm, administrative manager for CHR.
The Bells have high praise for CHR, especially the professionalism of the staff, and all elements of the program, particularly for the guidance they received from Pavelka and for the vision of another board member, Dr. Phil Marks, who spearheaded the creation of the LEO program.