Affordable housing issue is a crisis

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Feb 27, 2022.

OUR POSITION: It’s past time for lawmakers in Tallahassee to seriously address the cost of housing in Florida with some real solutions.

It is becoming an understatement to call the lack of affordable housing in Florida — a crisis. Action and answers are past due from Tallahassee, the federal government, housing nonprofits and the private sector.

The cost of apartments and prices of homes throughout Florida and along the Gulf Coast have skyrocketed.

The average asking rents for apartments are more than $2,100 per month in Naples and Marco Island, more than $1,800 in Sarasota and North Port and $1,700 per month in Punta Gorda, Fort Myers and Cape Coral, according to numbers released by the National Association of Realtors last month.

Apartment rents across the region are up as much as 40% across the region. Some landlords are imposing excessive rent increases on tenants.

Wage growth has not kept pace leaving renters and workers in increasingly desperate situations. The average weekly wages across the region range between approximately $800 and $1,200.

Many of the service and tourism jobs that dot Florida’s economic landscape simply don’t pay enough to work and live in many parts of the state. That makes for very tight living margins for many of our neighbors with Florida’s West Coast seeing some of the highest inflation in the country.

Simply put, $15 per hour jobs don’t pay the rent and keep up with the worst inflation since 1982.

The same trend lines hold true for home prices. The rise in real estate values during the pandemic has built equity for homeowners and increased wealth for those at the top, but affordability is becoming ever elusive for many households.

The political responses from Tallahassee to affordable housing have been disappointing.

The Legislature has raided and swept more than $2 billion from affordable housing programs and funds since 2007, according to the Florida Policy Institute.

Renters and those in need of affordable housing often don’t have well-heeled lobbyists pressing for their cause in state capitals or Washington.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s budget includes $355.5 million for affordable housing. House Republicans’ budget includes $268 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program but lacks money for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program.

The latter provides low-interest loans to developers building affordable housing. We need more efforts that bring the private sector to the table to help with affordable housing solutions rather than landlords simply driving the push for higher and higher rents.

The current Senate budget includes $338 million for affordable housing. Housing advocates say none of those allotments are enough.

They are correct.

Beyond the alphabet soup of government programs and partisan politics, state lawmakers need to make affordable housing a priority and not a talking point.

That includes a fresh look at new ideas and best practices from across the state and the country.

Lack of affordable housing has been a problem in big coastal cities and regions and the problem is also arising in other growth markets such as Idaho, Texas and Arizona.

Any and all ideas should be on the table — but with the financial backing to make a difference. Political platitudes and creating new bureaucracies will not suffice.

DeSantis and his Democratic foes — including gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist — all try to tout their commitment to ‘working families’ and ‘everyday’ Floridians.

Affordable housing shows whether that is a serious commitment or political lip service.

 Image Credits: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Facebook