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Florida Democrats in House, Senate call for emergency declaration to fight rising rent

'This is price gouging,' Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith says
florida rent changes.jfif
Posted at 5:40 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 17:40:14-05

House and Senate Democrats have called on the governor to declare a state of emergency — not for COVID-19 — but on housing. Florida rent is surging, they said, and in need of state intervention as soon as possible.

Nearly two dozen Democrats in the state House and Senate sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday afternoon urging his action.

"We are calling on you to use your authority as Governor to declare a state of emergency in Florida for housing affordability," the lawmakers wrote. "As the state's chief executive, and as has been demonstrated many times throughout the pandemic, the Florida Constitution gives your office-wide latitude to protect our state in times of crisis. This moment surely meets that definition."

The group cited reports from around the state showing average rent jumping compared to earlier this year.

  • Central Florida - Up 20% since January
  • South Florida - Up 14% since January
  • and Tampa - Up 24.8% since July

"What we're seeing is that more and more Floridians can't afford Florida because of these unconscionable rent hikes," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park.

Smith helped organize the effort in the House. He said an emergency declaration would allow the Attorney General to halt hikes by considering anything over 10% price gouging.

The plan also calls for the governor to make the order retroactive to the past 12 months.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith speaks about rents costs in Florida, Dec. 16, 2021
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith speaks about the rising rents in Florida.

"This is price gouging," Smith said. "We have state laws that are meant to protect consumers from price gouging and it's time that we use and enforce those laws."

The governor's office swatted down the idea in a statement later in the day. Press Secretary Christina Pushaw believed it would do "more harm than good."

"In fact, federal government overreach is a major cause of affordable housing shortages nationwide in the first place," Pushaw said. "Recall that the CDC eviction moratorium continued for more than a year, distorting the market and incentivizing landlords to raise their rents to make up for lost income."

DeSantis already wants to fill the state's affordable housing fund next year. He announced the intention recently during his budget announcement for fiscal year 2022-23. However, critics point out the pot is now smaller due to new state laws.

Lawmakers could always take up the issue when they return to the Capitol for next year's session, which begins in January. To date, more than 2,700 bills have been filed with a few of them addressing housing.