Housing challenges are about to get even worse

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Oct 23, 2022.

OUR POSITION: It’s going to be a struggle to replace the housing lost to Hurricane Ian and keep it anywhere near affordable for those displaced by the storm and others wanting to move to Florida.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has allocated $420 million to help Floridians with housing needs stemming from the impacts and damage from Hurricane Ian.

The federal housing help extends to 26 counties hit by the Category 4 storm including hardest hit areas of Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hardee, DeSoto, Sarasota and Manatee.

The government assistance includes reimbursing those forced to relocate because of Ian for the costs of hotel and motels, $700 payments for hurricane-displaced households to buy essential items and the replacement and repair of more than 1,500 roofs damaged or destroyed by the hurricane.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has also, so far, approved $65.4 million low-interest disaster loans to homeowners, renters and businesses to help rebuild and recover.

The federal aid, along with the Florida Disaster Fund and other relief efforts, can be a godsend for our neighbors hit hardest by Ian.

But the hurricane is also poised to worsen a statewide and regional housing crunch.

Across Florida and our communities here on the coast, high rents and lack of affordable housing options have been straining finances and are poised to erase one of Florida’s key competitive advantages — affordability.

That is a problem for a state economy built on tourism and service industries who tend to pay lower wages for frontline workers.

Since March 2020, apartment rents in the Tampa region are up 43%, according to Apartment List and the real estate group’s analysis of U.S.

Rents are up 37% in Miami and 35% in Jacksonville, according to the analysis.

Nationally, rents were up 17.6% in 2021. The latest Consumer Price Index has apartment rents going up 7.2% since September.

Home prices are up between 33% and 42% this year across southwest Florida even with interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve Bank with median prices across parts of the region well north of $300,000 and $400,000, according to the Florida Realtors industry group.

Please raise your hand if your income has gone up 7% let alone 30% or 40%.

The emergency help for Ian is a short-term bandage on what could be a much bigger economic and quality of life wound for the state and region.

The storm damaged scores of homes, apartment complexes and condo developments across the region. That will have short and long-term impacts on housing supplies.

FEMA and local rebuilding rules related to houses in flood plains suffering significant damage will make it harder for some homeowners to rebuild. A common result may be even more expensive properties in many of our communities with rebuilds required to meet new elevation heights and updated building codes.

Where will some of our impacted neighbors and workers, needed for the recovery as well as our local economies going forward, live?

We need to have more robust local, regional and statewide housing plans to address the immediate needs brought by the hurricane and the long-term challenges of workforce and affordable housing.

That needs to go beyond issuing broad requests for proposals (RFPs) and rudimentary incentives that don’t really move the housing needle.

The low-hanging fruit such as zoning, land-use and other bureaucratic reforms is just a starting point.

We also certainly need some answers to high insurance costs, challenges with coverage and all the added costs brought by lawsuits and attorneys who focus on damage-related cases.

Otherwise, we could see a housing and affordability future more similar to California and New York with sticker shock rents, long commutes and eventually workers and families relocating to less costly locations.

We can’t expect workers to commute an hour for a $12 or $13 per hour job with the types of costs they face for housing, shelter, energy and health care.

However, we can take the ashes of Ian as an opportunity for new and creative approaches to housing and improving the quality of new construction for all our residents.