As more data from the United States Census Bureau is released, a snapshot of America’s cities is coming into focus.

In Wilton Manors housing and rental costs rank above national averages. The Census Bureau listed the city’s median gross rent from 2015 to 2019 as $1,420. The national average was $1,062.

For workers, many employed in the city’s restaurant and bar industry, rental prices make life harder, not better. James Oaksun, a South Florida realtor, said a worker making $15 an hour has little to no chance of landing their own apartment in the Island City.

“They would have to have a roommate and even then the inventory is very limited,” Oaksun said.

The going rate in the Wilton Manors rental market is at least $1,500 for two bedrooms and one bath, said realtor Amber Taylor.

“It’s a sad state of affairs for those who might bag our groceries, serve our drinks and dare I say teach or work for our city,” Taylor said.

The lack of low-income housing is only part of the equation. A deeper dive into Census data shows Wilton Manors’ median value of owner-occupied housing units was $326,600, well above the national rate of $217,500.

Median monthly owner costs with a mortgage came to $1,967, and without a mortgage came to $719. The national averages were $1,595 and $500.

However, all of those figures come with a big asterisk — they were tallied before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Mike Trottier, a real estate agent with Dettman Realty Group, said COVID-19 dramatically changed the market.

“Showings and closings stopped for a long time and that pent-up demand,” Trottier said. “Then the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to record lows and that also added to the pent-up demand.”

Once stay-at-home orders were lifted and showings and transactions resumed, that pent-up demand flooded the market, Trottier said.

“Competing offers drove bidding wars which increased the sale prices that people were willing to pay,” he said.

Other forces, Trottier said, were millennials taking advantage of historically low-interest rates and entering the market for the first time, while older people simultaneously prepared for retirement by purchasing second homes.

Housing is briefly mentioned in a draft of Wilton Manors’ strategic plan for the next five years. Objectives related to housing in the plan include increasing density to accommodate residential development and assessing and evaluating the use and necessity of city-owned real estate.

Taylor said she hasn’t noticed any indications the city’s plan will help low-income renters and middle-class families.

“If anything the multifamily housing still deemed affordable is being torn down and replaced with second homes for the more fortunate who come down on a seasonal basis,” she said. “We have no concept of tenant protection or rent-controlled apartments like the other big metro areas.”
Information about the first-time homebuyers purchase assistance program can be found on the city’s website. Administered in partnership with Broward County’s Housing Finance and Community Redevelopment Division, the program offers a maximum of $40,000 per household for first-time homebuyers seeking to live in Wilton Manors.

Trottier said as the pandemic subsides, inventory will increase and the market will begin to normalize. He predicted prices will continue to rise but not at the same pace of the last six months.

“With safety protocols and the vaccine being more widespread and effective, more sellers feel comfortable and inventory is slowly rising,” he said.

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