OUR POSITION: A program to help renters stay in their homes is in shambles in Florida and soaring costs for renters threaten to increase the homeless population.

There is no solution in sight for people looking to rent in Florida, and our local communities are a stark example of the problem.

Rents have skyrocketed to unheard of prices, the inventory of homes/apartments/condos for rent has all but dried up and a government program to pay rent in arrears for those out of work during the pandemic is stalled thanks to poor decisions in Tallahassee.

The problem is simple. Solutions are not.

Florida’s economy has turned red hot and that means the values of homes, apartments and condos are booming. Some properties are worth double what they were a year ago. Landlords, many who have invested in property much of their lives and are older now, are cashing in. They no longer want the headaches of renting — especially following the months-long moratorium on collecting from renters the pandemic put out of work. So, they’re putting their properties up for sale and taking rental units off the market.

Prices for rental units that remain are so high that moderate income families are left out in the cold — or in this instance, the heat.

A canvas of rental units show a two-bedroom home or apartment is renting for around $2,000 and a three-bedroom for as much as $2,800, according to Denise Dull, director of Landlord Engagement for Gulf Coast Partnership. Fair market value for Charlotte County says a two-bedroom should rent for about $1,067 and a three-bedroom for $1,506. Good luck finding anything in that price range.

“When you’re a hospitality worker, you don’t make even close to enough to afford even the $1,067 fair market price,” Dull pointed out.

The problem is no easier in DeSoto County where Catholic Charities and DeSoto Cares are trying to help people find housing they can afford to rent.

“It’s really getting nuts,” Carrie Walsh, human services director for Charlotte County said. “There are programs to help people, but the inventory of rentals is the issue.”

Sarasota County is a little better off, thanks to a decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis on how to distribute hundreds of millions in federal CARE money to help people who lost their job during the height of the pandemic.

Walsh explained that DeSantis opted to send money from that windfall to counties with more than 200,000 in population, which includes Sarasota County. But, counties like Charlotte and DeSoto were left out. Smaller counties have to wait to get their share of those funds from the Department of Children and Families, an entity DeSantis gave responsibility for distributing what remains of the CARE rental assistance cash.

“DCF rolled out the program in May this year but they did not have the manpower for it,” Walsh said. “In three months, hundreds of people in Charlotte County applied for rental assistance and less than a dozen have been approved.

“There are more than 19,000 applications pending with DCF,” Walsh said. “And a big problem is that people who live in Tampa, Jacksonsville and other large cities, where money has already been sent to help, are now applying to DCF (when they should not be able to). The state needs to release that money to the counties that need it and not wait on DCF.”

Walsh said Charlotte County is helping people fill out applications for the rental assistance and is trying to work with DCF, and third-party contractor Title Basin, to share data. But, right now, the system is overwhelmed and clogged up.

Laurie Benson, director of social services in DeSoto County, has the same problems.

“As of Aug. 16, we had 79 DeSoto residents apply for help and only nine have been approved,” Benson said. “I received a phone call just this morning from a woman who got an eviction notice for being behind on rent and whose landlord was raising the rent by an extreme amount.

“There are so many people looking for rentals.”

Walsh said there are affordable housing projects being planned, but no relief is in sight for months. She suggested people needing help go to website OurFlorida.com where they can get information on how to seek assistance.

The problem will only get even worse in season when visitors find out the places they normally rent for weeks or a month in winter have been sold.


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