Each year tourism brings in billions to Florida, especially in Central Florida where Disney World resides. This summer the tourism industry bounced back, but there was one problem – the labor shortages experienced during the pandemic continued. While there are many reasons folks would not return to work in hospitality while COVID still abounds, one thing is clear: the housing affordability crisis is not helping to keep workers in the state.
But a rent stabilization initiative on the ballot in Orange County in this upcoming Midterm election could help make a big difference.
I live in Florida and personally know a few families that decided to leave the state because they could no longer afford their rent, especially after the rent prices increased. Not to mention the devastation that Hurricane Ian caused. That’s why I’m in favor of the ballot initiative that would keep people housed while Florida Rising and lawmakers work together to use the county’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan to provide longer term solutions like renter protections, landlord accountability and a comprehensive renters’ bill of rights.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) is a federal economic stimulus bill passed by Democrats in Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March 2021. The legislation provided more than $40 billion in funding to develop and support emergency rental assistance and housing vouchers, homeless assistance and supportive services system, homeowners assistance fund, housing counseling, and special emergency assistance for rural housing across the country.
Back in August, Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners approved a rent control ordinance, which in November will go to voters for approval. The rent stabilization ballot initiative limits rent increases in multi-unit buildings to the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index. The ordinance doesn’t apply to luxury units, single family homes or vacation rentals. If the ordinance is passed, landlords who violate it could face fines of up to $1,000 per day up to $15,000 per offense.
After the approval of the rent control ordinance, the Florida Apartment Association and the Florida Association of Realtors sued Orange County in an attempt to deter the ballot initiative aimed at limiting how much landlords can increase rents. The Florida Apartment Association claims that Orange County commissioners are not able to prove that there is a housing emergency that warrants rent control in their county.
It is shocking that the Florida Apartment Association is making this claim, when according to Orange County commissioners the asking-rent-per-unit in Orange County has grown from $1,357 in 2020 to $1,697 in 2021, a 25% increase – the highest increase since 2006, and the county has a shortage of as many as 26,500 housing units. For low-income Orange County residents who are already struggling to afford basic necessities, any type of rent increase is detrimental to their daily survival.
Thankfully, there are social justice groups like Florida Rising on the ground working diligently to advocate on behalf of tenants. Florida Rising has created Orange County Justice on Every Block, a platform serving as a call to action for their community and local leaders. Their mandate to urgent action is to ensure safe housing and ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads. The group’s goals for Orange County include mandating a 90-day eviction notice period for tenants who are pregnant or have children, a timely distribution of the federal emergency rental assistance, funding for an eviction diversion program and acknowledging the housing state of emergency so voters can decide on a one-year rent freeze.
During a commission meeting, Stephanie Porta, cofounder of Florida Rising stated “For years, renters have been asking this commission to do something about the upcoming emergency we are in right now, corporate landlords, real estate investors and developers are raising prices and making record profits while hardworking Orange County residents are priced out of their communities.”
It’s simple – if we want to keep people in the state to drive the success of our tourism industry, then we need to make sure they have safe and affordable housing and we can start by voting for the rent stabilization ballot.