August 2019 Hot Topics Review: Housing
Orlando is so short on affordable housing that even government officials freely use the word crisis. Led by WESH 2 anchor Jim Payne as moderator, three leaders in the field shared information on what Orange County should do to alleviate the housing insecurity problem. Speaking were Orange County Commissioner Mayra Uribe; attorney Roberta F. Walton, inaugural manager for the Lydia Gardner Self Help Center; and Traies Roe, director of real estate for National Community Renaissance’s eastern region, a non-profit affordable housing provider.
The situation. Florida ranked second in the country last year as having an affordable housing issue, and currently the Orlando metropolitan area has only 13 affordable units per 100 renters. With 1,000+ people moving to Central Florida every week, the situation is poised to get more severe. “Affordable” means that a family’s rent or mortgage is no more than 30 percent of income. The region’s medium income is $65,000, so half of families earn less. If a family of four makes $34,000 and 30 percent pays for housing, only $1,400 remains for all other expenses. Subsidized units can have a wait list of up to two years. One result is that three families will move into one apartment; that leads to a secondary problem – overcrowded apartment parking lots. Front-line tourism/hospitality industry employees tend to earn low wages, plus seniors on fixed incomes, and even young professionals, struggle for rent money. County Mayor Jerry Demings is studying the problem with a Housing for All task force.
Wages are low. Hospitality and tourism jobs pay low, even when the hourly wage is $15 – or $31,000 annually for full-time work. That’s insufficient to cover housing, transportation and childcare. According to The Alice Report by the Heart of Florida United Way, 350,000 area households make enough to make ends meet but have housing insecurity because one setback could case financial disaster.
Rapid Rehousing is a program designed to quickly get homeless people permanent housing. It’s a help, but is expensive and doesn’t always lead to permanent solutions.
Puerto Rican refugees from Hurricane Maria were given Section 8 vouches yet many landlords refused to give them housing.
Safe parking areas for people living in car, as other municipalities provide, can’t be offered here because is it against Florida law to live in one’s car.
Long-time lodgers such as family members offered temporary refuge have a legal right to remain in someone’s home once they begin receiving mail there.
Where to find help with issues. Orange County’s Lydia Gardner Self Help Center assists with residential landlord-tenant issues, including eviction threats. This is especially important because even the threat of an eviction will mark a person’s public record for seven years, making it nearly impossible to find new housing.
Solution: mixed housing. Mixed housing complexes with a blend of prices – for both working families and higher-income earners – has been effective in other markets and should be implemented here. This is instead of keeping low-rent housing isolated. Likewise, builders should be incentivized to build infill housing for lower income residents in areas with pricier options despite community hesitation. In the end everyone benefits.
Solution: rebuild old units. Replacing “functionally obsolete” older units with denser, higher, greener new-builds will provide homes for more people.
Solution: make development faster. New buildings are often slow to be built because the government repeatedly asks for changes before construction begins. Streamlining the process would result in quicker completion.
Solution: the Sadowski fund. Florida’s Sadowski fund was created in 1992 to tax real estate expenditures so as to provide funding for housing shortages with the goal of decreasing homelessness. Yet the legislature is in the habit of diverting allocated money to other projects. It “stole” $150 of the state’s $350 million this year, two speakers agreed. As a result, we get a fraction of the several million dollars to which we’re entitled. Telephone, and send emails and hand-written letters, to legislators with the message, “Stop spending Sadowski funds on other things.”
Solution: Help out. Donate money, and sweat equity, to groups such as Habitat for Humanity that work to create additional housing.
In sum, it’s crucial that we all look into ways to increasing housing options in Central Florida. “People can’t afford to live here anymore,” said Traies Roe.
Submitted by Rona Gindin