Democratic House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell breaks down why more Floridians are finding it hard to pay rent. Efforts to fix the problem are not enough.
Florida ranks number one in the US in housing unaffordability, with 56.5% of renters spending 30% or more of their income on housing. This places Miami, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville among the top 20 US cities with the fastest climbing rent prices.
But although the rocketing price of rent and properties is often attributed to the influx of people from all over the country moving to Florida, the reason for the housing crisis lies elsewhere, says Democratic House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell.
“The Republicans created this crisis,” Driskell told Floricua during a one-on-one interview. “Over 20 years ago, the Florida legislature established a trust, the Sadowski Fund, for affordable housing, and for every sale of property, a certain amount of the taxes would go into this trust fund so that we could invest in communities and build more affordable housing.”
‘Robbing Peter to Pay Paul’
“What the [DeSantis and] Republicans started doing was using that affordable housing money as their own trust fund,” says Driskell. “You’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul,’ right? So, if they decided they wanted to give some corporate tax giveaways to big corporations, they would take money from affordable housing and give it away to corporations or spend it on pet projects. Anything but affordable housing.”
RELATED: ‘It Has Come to the Point Where You Wonder if You Can Stay in This City,’ Floridians Ask as Prices Soar
Additionally, despite the Democrats’ efforts to fully fund the housing program funded by a documentary stamp tax paid on all real estate transactions, in 2020 the state legislature reduced the Sadowski Fund by two thirds. This resulted in a lack of inventory, or “not enough supply on the market,” says Driskell.
A Beginning, But Not Enough
In March of this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate President Kathleen Passidomo’s (R-Naples) $711 million affordable housing legislation.
The bill would create tax exemptions for developments that set aside at least 70 units for affordable housing, and would speed permits and development orders for affordable housing projects, among other measures.
However, it will bar local rent controls. For this reason some Democrats, among them Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), have expressed concerns that while the new housing legislation offers partial relief, it is not enough.
Florida incurred a 36% increase in rental prices from the first month of 2020 to the last month of 2022. In fact, rental prices in Florida have surpassed the prices predicted by historical trends, with Florida home to nine of the 25 most overvalued rental markets in the US: Cape Coral (ranked #1), Miami (#2), North Port (#3), Tampa (#7), Orlando (#12), Deltona (#14), Palm Bay (#16), Jacksonville (#18), and Lakeland (#21).
“I do feel like parts of the bill are going to do a lot of good. [But] it’ll take time,” said Rep. Eskamani, who voted against the measure. “My constituents are seeking immediate relief. They’re seeking renter protections.”
Hard Hit Floridians
Statistics and numbers tell the facts, but it is the people who can tell the story.
“Hard as I try, I can’t find anything at a price I can afford,” Flora González, a nanny in West Kendall, told Floricua. “In some places the owner charges whatever he wants; there is no cap, no control. It has come to the point where you wonder if you can stay in this city.”
For this reason, “people are leaving not because they want to, but because they have to,” former Sen. Annette Taddeo told Floricua. “They can no longer afford to live here.”