Cranes fill the skyline of Fort Lauderdale heralding the arrival of new housing, while small cities like Wilton Manors plan for mid-rise, mixed-use buildings along major thoroughfares.
But these amenity-filled homes are likely to exacerbate South Florida’s affordable housing crisis, not alleviate it.
On May 26 The Pride Center hosted a panel, led by their active aging specialist, Avani Vijaylakshmi-Ramanathan. They focused on available resources including legal aid, financial aid, and new initiatives to help keep people in their homes. Panelists included self-described “recovering-banker-turned-consultant” Marcia Barry-Smith, attorney Jeff Hittleman with Coast To Coast Legal Aid, James Carras of Carras Community Investment, and Bertisha Combs with Florida Rising.
“There are several new resources,” Barry-Smith said. “I’m sorry that we’re not anywhere near where we should be.”
Thousands across South Florida are feeling the delayed effects of the pandemic, including housing insecurity. Many get notices that their rent is going up hundreds of dollars a month, and most municipalities only require 15 days' notice of the increase. Efforts are underway to increase that notice to 60 days or even 90 days.
“The biggest challenges right now are probably the rent increases,” Hittlemen said. “South Florida’s having the highest rent increases in the entire country, and we’re seeing rents go up 20, 25, 30% in a year.”
Many in the crowd raised their hands when asked if they thought Section 8 Housing was a readily available safety net. Hittleman was quick to disabuse them of that idea. He said demand is so high for Section 8 help, people can’t even get on the waiting list because the waiting list is full.
There are plenty of grants available, but each sets its own rules to qualify. Variables can be total income, family size, and the severity of their situation. That’s a part that’s especially irksome to Barry-Smith.
“I get mad that we hone it down so closely, it all depends on [their status]. Are they on the verge of homelessness? Are they not? Is it imminent? Are they just simply uncomfortable? Are they [couch] surfing?”
Hittleman said seniors are especially vulnerable.
“It’s a big challenge for everyone, especially seniors on a fixed income. They’re gonna struggle to afford the rent increase.”
Social Security is about $840 per month, a sum that wouldn’t cover most rents, and much fewer other necessities like food and transportation. Barry-Smith said the quality of housing is just as important and puts forth an entirely different set of issues.
“My personal concern is are they in homes that are now becoming blighted because they can’t afford insurance. They can’t afford to fix it up. They are facing foreclosure.”
Solutions include enacting tenant bills of rights across South Florida. Miami-Dade County, where some rents have doubled or tripled recently, enacted a tenant bill of rights in May.