OUR POSITION: Housing continues to be a troubling aspect toward living in Southwest Florida. We can figure this out if we want.

To borrow a phrase from Charles Dudley Warner (no, not Mark Twain), “It is a matter about which a great deal is said, but very little done.”

Warner was referring to the weather. We’re talking about affordable housing.

Or, if you prefer, “attainable” housing, or “workforce” housing — terms sometimes considered preferable because they don’t conjure up images of decrepit public housing projects.

But it’s all affordable housing, Florida Housing Coalition President and CEO Jaime Ross said at a recent Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce program: decent housing that rents for no more than 30% of a household’s income.

For lower-income workers in Sarasota County, and the state in general, that’s only slightly more common than unicorn teeth.

Consider: Florida’s minimum wage just went up to $10 for most workers ($6.98 for tipped employees). Someone working 40 hours a week — which is not everyone — earns $400 a week, $1,600 a month. “Affordable” for that person would be an apartment renting for $480 a month.

The cheapest local unit on Realtor.com and Trulia.com this week was a one-bath efficiency at $1,050 a month. Of course, it wasn’t actually available.

Virtually nothing under $1,500 was. But if you could pay $2,000 or more a month, there was a selection.

And that’s just the base rent. Depending on the complex, you might also need to come up with the last month’s rent and a deposit.

Got a pet? That’s another deposit as well as higher rent.

Then there can be landlord’s insurance; pest control; “concierge” trash collection; a charge for in-unit washer and dryer; covered parking; extra storage; a monthly administrative fee.

Some costs are optional, others aren’t. Whatever your total is, the landlord will probably require monthly income of a minimum of 2.5 times that amount to consider an application.

In the case of that efficiency, it would be $2,625 to cover the base rent alone — about $16.40 an hour at a full-time job.

The state’s minimum wage doesn’t rise to $15 an hour until 2026.

High rents are the result of classic supply and demand economics — too many potential renters chasing too few units they can afford.

Desperate, they agree to rents they probably shouldn’t. That’s why nearly 1 million very-low income households in Florida spend more than 50% of their income on housing, Ross said.

It also contributes to the state’s homelessness crisis — the third-highest homeless population in the country, she said.

Money is at the root of the problem in several ways.

The Florida lifestyle — and lack of an income tax — attracts retirees. Developers make more money building high-end houses for them than apartment complexes.

The state has funds for affordable housing but the Legislature has made a habit of “sweeping” money out of them for other uses.

Local governments tend to say the affordable housing shortage is a state problem even though they have a statutory obligation to provide it.

They commission studies, adopt policies that rarely get enforced and the shortage grows.

There are things that can be done to address it, but the first step, Ross said, is adopting a mindset that affordable housing is infrastructure, as important as roads and parks.

Everything else depends on that. And that’s the easy part.


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