Rising debt makes housing bigger priority

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on Dec 7, 2023.

OUR POSITION: Inflation has pushed consumers’ credit to all-time highs and that budget crunch just makes affordable housing that much more urgent.

Total household debt for Americans increased by $228 billion in the third quarter and totals $17.29 trillion, according to a report last month from the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

That’s an all-time record. Credit card debt is also at a record $1.08 trillion jumping by $48 billion — a 4.7% quarterly increase — also a dubious record.

Outstanding credit card debt is up 16.6% since last year, according to the New York Fed latest numbers.

Rates hikes by the U.S. central bank in response to 40-year highs with inflation have driven up interest rates for home mortgages and car loans as well as for consumer and small business credit.

Despite drops in the Consumer Price Index (the U.S. government’s main inflation gauge), we don’t have to tell you the cost of living is higher — especially here in Florida.

Housing costs, groceries and prices for used and new cars are all higher nationally and here in the Sunshine State. It is difficult to find a good used car under $20,000 and new cars under $40,000.

We all know Florida’s spikes in rents and our endless summer temperatures driving up air conditioning bills.

The two most recent CPI shows annual inflation rates of 3.2% and 3.7%, respectively in October and September compared to the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But inflation is still markedly higher here in Florida — coming in at 7.4% for October in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale and 6.7% in the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area.

The result is more households putting purchases on their credit cards so they can pay for housing, groceries and other needs. That is poised to be magnified even more with Christmas and holiday spending.

Rising and record household and credit card debt is yet another call to find ways to increase our affordable housing stock.

At the state and local levels, there is not much control over some macroeconomic trends. Post-pandemic inflation was spurred by all the money pumped into market economies during all the COVID shutdowns and pullbacks. Consolidations and lack of competition in some sectors and some supply chains have been embraced in various industries and left mostly unchecked by U.S. administrations from both political parties and governments across the globe.

But housing is a place where state and local efforts can have some impact on residents’ lives and pocketbooks.

We’ve stressed the need to turn all the talk and promises of doing something about the lack of affordable housing options in southwest Florida.

We simply need great supplies of quality housing for seniors, workers and young people living here or already or moving to the state.

That requires some serious looks at local and regional land-use policies and zoning rules that can restrict new housing developments. Those land-use rules have been used by neighbors and other interests adverse to new housing in their communities.

Sometimes neighborhood concerns about apartments and other new housing projects are legitimate.

But we have to get serious about rising housing prices and rents and the lack of options for seniors on fixed income and all those workers we need here in Florida to work in key industries.

We need to find more affordable options that work within our communities. It’s also another reason to get the state’s property insurance situation under control as homeowners and small businesses see rising premiums.

Otherwise, Florida is going to lose businesses, workers and seniors to less expensive states.

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