Affordable housing hard to come by in Southwest Florida

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Affordable housing is hard to come by in Southwest Florida. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Your dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to here in Southwest Florida especially when it comes to renting your home.

People all over Southwest Florida are feeling the crunch of having to afford rent in the area. Rental website Zumper tracks prices and shows an average 2-bedroom apartment for rent in Fort Myers is nearly $2,300, a 55% increase over last year. In Naples, the average 2-bedroom will run you $4,000, jumping 60%. And in Punta Gorda, the same would cost you $2,750, a 20% increase.

Cris Thomas said he pays $2,400 for a 2-bedroom.

“That’s ridiculous,” Thomas said.

Elizabeth Radi, also a renter, said there is zero affordable housing.

“We have a single mother with six children. And she has taken an apartment that she already knows she’s not going to be able to afford the rent. But she said I cannot look my six children in the eyes and say get into the back of the car, again,” said Thomas Felke a social work professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Felke said the area is already seeing the impacts of what rapidly rising rent is doing to the hospitality and tourism-based economy.

If people can’t afford to live here they can’t afford to work here either.

“We’re already seeing, you know, retail location, service locations, fast food, restaurants, etc, are having difficulty staffing, having to restrict their hours having to change their days and their methods of operation,” Felke said.

And it’s illegal in Florida to introduce rent control.

But FGCU economist Victor Claar said he feels that is not the answer to more manageable rent prices either.

Claar said that actually hurts the housing market and economy.

Landlords are less likely to maintain their property to keep their tenants happy knowing someone else would be happy to occupy that unit.

He adds landlords are also less likely to make more housing available at reasonable prices.

“If you introduce these rent controls, these maximum prices, we get less housing. In fact, property that’s currently used as housing becomes more valuable as something besides housing. So we might see that housing demolished and replaced with something else as a consequence,” Claar said.

Instead, the answer is cutting down on rules.

“You have so many rules in Southwest Florida, minimum lot sizes, we have restrictions on whether multiple-family dwellings like apartment buildings can be built on a certain part of the town versus single-family dwellings. And if we relaxed a lot of those requirements, we could build even more housing, that across the board would be more affordable for everybody,” Claar said.

But that’s going to take time and not many families can wait.

Felke points to a new ordinance out of Miami-Dade County that could help here.

Landlords now have to give at least 60 days’ notice of rent increases of 5% or more no matter the type of lease.

Previously only renters with year-to-year leases got advance notice, not those with month-to-month leases.

“That’s not a perfect solution,” Felke said. “At least it’s something where an individual or family has a fighting chance to try and find a new place to live, which is already extraordinarily difficult given the market that we’re in.”

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