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Florida Housing

Florida has an affordable housing problem, but can lawmakers solve it?


The growing problem of a lack of affordable housing has been building for several years in Florida, but it exploded into an outright crisis in 2022, as rents on average increased in the state’s biggest metropolitan areas by 24 percent, according to rent.com.

It’s an issue that many local governments have been dealing with on a weekly basis, but there’s been relatively little help from Tallahassee, where state lawmakers had until recently repeatedly diverted money from the state’s dedicated trust fund meant to support affordable housing programs.

Now a legislative proposal designed to address Florida’s escalating affordable housing crisis gets its first vetting before lawmakers on Wednesday.

The “Live Local Act” (SB 102) is a $711 million legislative proposal sponsored by Miami Senate Republican Alexis Calatayud that has the imprimatur of both House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, who introduced the proposal at a press briefing in the Capitol last month.

“This is something that has become a crisis in our state,” Passidomo said about the housing situation. “It’s become a huge burden on our citizens and our residents. And it’s something that we have to address.”

The measure is loaded with tax incentives for developers, including a local option for cities and counties to give tax exemptions for builders who dedicate at least 20 percent of their units to affordable housing.

“We’re providing incentives for businesses who are providing affordable housing. There’s a quid-pro-quo there,” said Sen. Passidomo at her press conference.

Rent controls would be banned

The bill also bans local governments from enacting any type of rent control measures, repealing the current law which only counties to do so if they declare an existing housing emergency that constitutes “a serious menace to the general public” and is limited to only one year.

Housing activists and citizens who have been priced out of their homes and apartments pushed city councils and county commissions in Florida’s largest metro areas last year to enact such restrictions.

But local lawmakers faced significant pushback in many cases from their own government attorneys.

Ultimately, the only local government that pursued the idea was in Orange County, where 59% of voters approved an ordinance last November that prevents owners of existing apartments from raising rates at a rate higher than the region's inflation rate. A local judge blocked the ordinance, but the county commission has voted to appeal that legal decision.

Orange County Commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero supported the ballot measure and the subsequent legal appeal challenge.  She says one issue that continues to frustrate her is the fact that housing projects with thousands of units have already been approved in her district going back to 2016, “however, they have not yet been built.”

“It’s important that we work hard to make sure that prices do not continue to grow out of control and that our most vulnerable community members are not left behind,” she told the Phoenix in an email.


Homeless woman. Credit: YouTube.

One of the deleterious effects of the housing crisis in the area has been an increase in homelessness in Central Florida. The Orange, Osceola, and Seminole school districts saw a 45% increase in homeless students from last year, the Orlando Sentinel reported in December.

A tent city encompassing dozens of people has formed in the Parramore area next to downtown Orlando over the past year, says Sheena Rolle, the senior director of strategy with Florida Rising, a statewide organizing group. She says that the current crisis is broadening what homelessness looks like with more people living in cars or storage units says it’s not being addressed.

“So you can pay $200-$300 rent for a storage unit per month, but you can’t pay $2,300 for a one-bedroom apartment, so you see a lot of that going on,” she says. “Or drive by Starbucks, and you’ll see more U-Haul trailers and people living out of U-Haul trailers because you can afford the monthly cost of that to hitch on to your car and live out of vs. paying for rent.”

While no other locality in Florida went as far as Orange County last year in trying to regulate the high rise in rents, several counties have enacted what has been called a Tenants Bill of Rights, such as Pinellas County.

That measure prohibits discrimination against rents based on their source of income (such as Section 8 housing vouchers); requires landlords to give advance notice of late fees and rent increases of more than 5 percent, and requires landlords to provide tenants with a notice of their rights.

North Florida University Sociology Professor David Jaffee is the director of the JAX Rental Housing Project, which collects and analyzes data on the rental housing market and the conditions for renters in the Jacksonville/Duval County community. In a just-released report on Jacksonville’s affordable rental housing crisis, Jaffee points the finger at institutional investors who he says have created the “financialization of human shelter.”

“What we have taking place across the state are these firms coming in, and they’re buying hundreds to thousands of single-family homes,” Jaffee told the Phoenix earlier this week. “They’re essentially converting them into rental properties. They’re bundling the rental properties into investment portfolios for their wealthy clients, or the clients that they hope to attract by the return that they will get on these investments.”

Jaffee says ideally, local governments could create registries listing those companies and the properties they own in each community (not easy to do, he says, because a single equity firm can use multiple LLC designations) to make the public aware of who they are.  He’d like to see government impose a transfer tax on every single-family home, which he contends would disincentivize institutional investors from buying up so many homes. (Such a proposal was introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives by Washington state Democrat Adam Smith.


In St. Petersburg, City Councilman Richie Floyd was unsuccessful in getting a rent stabilization measure before voters last November. But he has led the effort for the city to move forward with a program to provide legal counsel for those facing eviction, beginning with those on the economically challenged southside. “We’re hoping to expand it citywide in the next fiscal year – at least, that’s what I’m pushing for,” he says.

Regarding the just-introduced legislative proposal, Floyd says he’s “grateful” that state lawmakers are addressing the issue of affordable housing but skeptical because it cuts off any form of rent stabilization.

“I’ll welcome any opportunity to provide more housing to people. I just want to make sure that I know the details first because there's ways that you can do this that might throw some crumbs to people who need housing but really end up being giveaways to developers, and so I hope that they’re choosing to do it the right way,” he says.

Across the Bay in Tampa, City Councilman Orlando Gudes was also on the losing side in advocating for a rent stabilization proposal in 2022. He emphasizes that he supports rent stabilization and not rent control.

“Rent control doesn’t work because you don’t have the dollars to be able to keep the upkeep on the buildings,” he says. “But rent stabilization will work because now you could say you’ve got 2%, 3% increase for the year, whatever, to be able to make sure that those places stay livable and don’t become a dump.”

The legislative proposal also encourages the use of public property for affordable housing; requires local governments to maintain a public written policy outlining procedures for expedited permits and development orders for affordable housing projects; expands Florida’s Hometown Heroes program with an additional $100 million to provide down payment assistance to teachers, health care workers, laws enforcement and service members and “workers in other fields.”

“Although the bill contains important provisions to incentivize and fund affordable housing moving forward, the bottom line is that Floridians are in dire need of a solution for our state’s severe affordable housing crisis now,” said Esteban Leonardo Santis, a policy analyst with the Florida Policy Institute. “This bill does little to provide relief in the immediate term to the people who are struggling to afford a place to live.”

The bill goes before Senate Community Affairs Committee at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A companion bill was filed in the Florida House on Monday by Miami-Dade Republican Demi Busatta-Cabrera.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. 

Florida Phoenix, Homelessness, Affordable Housing, Rent.Com, Florida, Florida Legislature


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  • MamaMia

    The Florida lawmakers who are the Republican majority, aren't interested in helping low income people, they only are interested in helping themselves, or the rich, haven't ya' ll heard? They want to sunset medicare, medicaid, and social security benefits, they don't want billionaires, and billionaire corporations paying ANY taxes.

    Thursday, February 9, 2023 Report this

  • MelissaW

    Lawmakers can help with this crisis, but many do not want to and do not care to. Follow the money.

    Thursday, February 9, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    The DeSantis administration and his bunch in Tallahassee are more interested in girls' menstrual periods, than affordable housing! I swear, I'm not joking, google it. Those Republican Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee are nothing but crazy. They have no right to know anything concerning a girl's menstrual cycle! That falls under medical privacy, and should not be on forms accessed by the state or mandatory. How positively creepy!

    Thursday, February 9, 2023 Report this