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Shrinking inventory, rising rents and $2 billion loss created Florida’s affordable housing crisis

Lawmakers took over $2 billion from Florida housing trust fund
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Posted at 5:34 AM, Sep 23, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Working-class wage earner Hicham Tazi doesn't know where he will find another $200 a month now that the landlord spiked his rent. Tazi, who lives in Palm Harbor, said his landlord recently notified him via email that his one-bedroom apartment rent is increasing to $1,600 a month in November.

Tenants across Tampa Bay say they are stunned by similar notices hitting their box. They often amount to an increase of hundreds of dollars each month. In Tampa, hairstylist and lifelong renter Drew Riggs said he's facing a $300 rent hike for his older two-bedroom apartment.

Riggs said his job won’t cover the 34% increase.

An epidemic

Jaimie Ross, the head of Florida’s Housing Coalition calls the shortage of affordable rentals an epidemic.

“Working families are falling into homelessness,” Ross said.

According to the coalition's own study, soaring costs and a shrinking supply of affordable units left close to two million Florida households struggling to pay the rent or mortgage before the pandemic sent rent prices skyward.

Home Matters Report 2021 by ABC Action News on Scribd

Ross said much of the blame lies with state lawmakers who swept more than $2 billion out of the state’s housing trust fund since it was created in the early 90s. The fund provides assistance to first-time home buyers and, in part, funds the construction of affordably priced developments.

Veteran Florida lawmaker, Sen. Ed Hooper (R-Clearwater), fought for a decade to stop the annual pillaging of the housing trust fund. This year Sen. Hooper claimed victory through Senate Bill 2512.

“The final document said that the Legislature is prevented from sweeping that money into general revenue," he told ABC Action News.

Going forward the trust is expected to generate over $400 million a year. The funding is baked into every home sale in the form of doc stamps — a tax paid whenever property transfers ownership.

Playing catchup

Since 1993, Florida has lost 60,000 affordable rental units. Now Tampa Bay is racing to catch up with more than 2,000 price-fixed apartments expected to open in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties over the next several years.

The Preserve at Sabal Park is home to more than 250 affordable housing units in southern Hillsborough County.

And the housing trust helped pay for Uptown Sky, a 61-unit complex now under construction near USF.

Three affordable housing developments in and around St. Petersburg will open between late this year and next.

To qualify for affordable housing rentals, tenants would need to make less than 80% of the area's median income. For a family of four, that means a cap of $60,000 a year.

Still, it's nowhere near the number to meet demand. And none will open in time to help the renters Riggs and Tazi whose higher rent payments are due in the coming weeks.

Home affordability across the country

A report released on Thursday by ATTOM, curator of the nation’s premier property database, showed that median-priced single-family homes are less affordable in the third quarter of 2021 compared to historical averages in 75% of counties across the nation with enough data to analyze.

ATTOM looked at 43 counties with a population of at least one million people and of those counties, Hillsborough was one with the biggest year-over-year gains in median prices during the third quarter of 2021. According to the report, prices are up 22% in the county.

The report also ranks Hillsborough among counties with a population of at least one million where the affordability indexes worsened the most from the third quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021. According to the report, the affordability indexes dropped 14% in Hillsborough.

Click here to read the full ATTOM report.