‘I just didn’t have the money’: FL residents struggle to afford rising rents for housing

Florida residents are grappling with rising housing costs, including steep increases in apartment and house rents, as the ongoing affordable housing crisis becomes the centerpiece of gubernatorial campaigns for the 2022 election.

Duval County resident Jean Stallworth knows the struggle for affordable housing all too well.

Stallworth, 67, told the Florida Phoenix in a phone interview that she was disabled and was forced out of a house she rented earlier during the pandemic because its landlord raised the rent.

“The people I was renting from decided not to renew my lease because they wanted to raise the rent,” she said. “They only gave us 30 days to move.”

Homeless woman. Credit: YouTube.

Stallworth said her rent went from $700 to around $1,000 a month and she became homeless at some point before moving into a motel.

“I just didn’t have the money,” Stallworth said. “I was in my SUV, with my two dogs. I used my savings to stay in a motel. It was pure hell. I lost everything.

According to a March 2022 report covering the Florida rental market by Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute.

And over the past year, home prices in the state have also increased. “The relentless ascent has turned many potential buyers off, causing them to rent instead and putting upward pressure on prices in Florida rental markets,” TaxWatch wrote.

For rentals across the state, median rent prices rose from “$1,340 in February 2020 (just before the pandemic) to just over $1,760 in February 2022,” an increase of 31.4 % over two years, according to the report.

Over the past year, major metropolitan areas, such as Miami, Tampa and Orlando, have seen strong increases in median rental prices overall. For example, the median rent cost in Miami for a one-bedroom unit is $2,420 and $3,220 for a two-bedroom unit, as of February 2022. These figures represent an increase of approximately 34% in price median rent over the year.

Sharon Storey, 64, told the Phoenix in a phone conversation that she was struggling to help her son find an affordable home to buy in Duval County. She said her son is paying nearly $2,000 in rent but hopes to buy a house in the neighborhood. “There should be a cap on rents,” she said.

One of the main issues is that “out-of-state people or corporations are buying the houses,” Storey said. “I’m really stressed about it as a mother.”

“For a first-time home buyer, like my son, and they even have a good down payment. Every time we come to these houses, we come in and it’s already sold out,” she said.

“Our kids are going to be forced out of Florida,” Storey said. “I’m appalled, he’s 30 and he can’t even buy a house. I wake up every night in the middle of the night and check Zillow to see if there’s a house available for my son.

Candidates address affordable housing

Gubernatorial candidates for the 2022 election have launched tours across the state to unveil their plans to tackle affordable housing.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, announced a plan this month to declare a state of housing emergency in Florida, if elected governor.

His plan also includes blocking any attempts by lawmakers to plunder Florida’s Affordable Housing Trust Funds.

At a press conference in Tallahassee this week, Fried discussed her plan, saying, if elected, “I’ll take on predatory landlords” who drive up rental costs. “Tenants in Florida are exploited,” she said.

A modest foreclosed house in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images

She also said at the press event that she would use empty motels and hotels for affordable housing for low-income people.

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has a different plan that includes appointing a “housing czar” to help “achieve broad housing affordability goals,” if elected.

And his housing affordability agenda involves creating policies that tackle rising electricity and utility costs. He unveiled his plan at the end of January.

“When I was governor, I attacked electric companies and demanded lower rates for working families,” Crist said in a written statement. “I appointed consumer-focused regulators who were on the people’s side, not the profit side. And my Affordable Florida for All plan is our campaign promise that once I get in power, I will do it again. »

State Senator Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade is also a candidate for governor in the primary. She did not respond to the Florida Phoenix about her housing plan. But in a statement in March when the state budget was approved by the legislature, Taddeo said:

“Florida has quickly become one of the most unaffordable states to live in in the country. We have an affordable housing crisis, skyrocketing home insurance rates, and crumbling infrastructure. Meanwhile, it has said, “Governor DeSantis and his minions in the legislature have engaged in culture wars.”

Bryan Griffin, deputy press secretary for DeSantis, told the Phoenix this week that the Republican governor “has consistently advocated full funding for the State of Florida’s affordable housing programs since his first year in office, and he appreciates the decision. lawmakers to appropriate a significant amount for affordable housing in the 2022-23 budget”.

Griffin also claimed in another email Thursday that there was no “sweep” of affordable housing funds into general revenue in the 2022-23 budget.

In years past, legislators have drawn funds from the housing trust fund.

Griffin added, “The Governor’s successful policies in the State of Florida have attracted new residents from across the country, making property in Florida increasingly valuable. This positive externality of successful state government will naturally come with new challenges, such as rising rental costs.

Housing trust funds transferred to other programs

As low-income families continue to search for affordable housing, the Florida Legislature transferred $100 million from a State Housing Trust Fund to create a program for homebuyers.

The move came during the 2022 legislative session, when lawmakers were wrapping up the state budget document for 2022-23.

The $100 million “from the State Housing Trust Fund will be used by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to establish a Florida Hometown Hero housing program to provide down payment and closing cost assistance to eligible buyers,” according to budget records from the Florida Hometown Hero. the state.

There were no other details and no mention of a local project related to the new hometown hero housing program. For the sake of transparency, the legislature has created a process to verify a program and provide many details to be able to bring a local project into the state budget. But that didn’t happen in this case, according to budget records.

State Representative Angie Nixon attends a press conference at the Florida Capitol on February 8, 2022. Credit: Imani Thomas

Florida Realtors advocated for the new Hometown Hero project and said in its filing that the program “would complement — not remove — existing efforts to increase homeownership opportunities for low-income Floridians.”

The state budget has yet to be approved — DeSantis is expected to approve that $100 million.

Representative Angela Nixon, a Democrat representing part of Duval County, said in a phone conversation that Democrats tried to pass several bills related to the housing crisis and evictions this session, but the The GOP-controlled Legislature has not pursued Democrats’ bills or even amendments.

“It’s frustrating that Republicans want to congratulate themselves as if they’ve done something. When in fact, they are the ones who have contributed to this housing crisis in the State of Florida. He [DeSantis] created culture wars instead of addressing the housing crisis.

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