Evictions, high rent: Renters in South Florida continue to struggle

Rental costs in Florida generally are considered among the nation’s most overvalued.

The City of Miami skyline, where many renters reside in the apartment buildings on September 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. According to an analysis from Realtor.com, rents nationwide are rising.

The City of Miami skyline, where many renters reside in the apartment buildings on September 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. According to an analysis from Realtor.com, rents nationwide are rising. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More people in South Florida can’t pay their rent. Some are facing eviction. Others are working three jobs to survive. In Miami-Dade County, during the recent pandemic, there was a moratorium on evictions but it expired about a year ago. Now the county is seeing an increase in evictions.

The county’s Office of the Commission Auditor recently released its second quarterly evictions and foreclosure report for 2022. It showed a jump in eviction cases in county court from April to June. Compared to the same period in 2021, evictions increased by 45 percent in June, 52 percent in April, and 84 percent in May. The highest number was in June, with 1,599. 

Rental costs in Florida are considered among the nation’s most overvalued, according to researchers at Florida Atlantic University. A recent study there found that the Miami metro area, which includes Broward and Palm Beach counties, leads the U.S. with renters spending about 18 percent more than they should based on leasing price history. In a typical market, rents increase by 3-5% a year. Throughout the nation, the average rental premium at the end of September was 9.3%. (Five other Florida markets considered overpriced are Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Tampa, North Port-Bradenton, Orlando and Deltona-Daytona Beach.)

Consider this statistic: The salary needed to purchase a home has gone up by more than 55 percent in the past year because of rising interest rates and high home prices, according to RedFin, a real estate brokerage. In Miami, one needs to make about $128,892, a 64 percent increase from the year before when $78,755 was needed to afford a median-priced home. In West Palm Beach, one needs a $115,707 annual salary, a 58 percent increase from the previous year. The increase in interest rates is a major reason for this. Last year, interest rates at one point were around 3%. Now they’re close to 7%.

Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy and field organizing for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the nation is facing a housing crisis and that more protections are needed for renters. “We need anti-rent gouging; we need to expand rental assistance,” she said, rattling off a list of needs. “We need protections for renters. We need more affordable housing. We have seen dramatic rental increases. We need more rental assistance from Congress. We need zoning that will allow more housing development.”

Related story: Miami moves to fifth place among U.S. cities with highest rents

At the grassroots level, some efforts are being made to help people buy homes. Habitat for Humanity of Broward County has a program where people participate in home building activities and eventually qualify to buy a home. They attend classes on homeownership and then work with volunteers to build a neighborhood that could include their home.

“A lot of our homeowners call it ‘the rental rat race,’ ” said Nancy Robin, CEO and executive director of Habitat for Humanity. “No one can save money and get ahead. This combination creates a perfect storm for people and there are few affordable houses. Broward County is 150,000 units shy of affordable housing. And we don’t have a lot of open land in the county.”

Broward County leaders are considering various ways to raise money to provide more affordable housing, she added: “A lot of people are cost burdened. The cost of housing is exorbitant, and wages are low.” Robin said too many people are spending more than one third of their income on housing, considered too much. And she says too many renters and homeowners are living in areas that are not safe. Some may be ‘working homeless.’ That is, they may be living with friends on a short term basis or couch surfing. Many large families are living in small apartments.

Problems many, solutions few

So what can be done? In Palm Beach County, voters approved a $200 million bond for affordable housing units in the recent election. The bond will be paid for by property tax increases and is designed to subsidize the construction of 20,000 workforce housing units. The subsidy averages about $10,000 per unit.

Related story: Are Palm Beach County residents ready to mortgage the future?

This bond had the support of developers. Hometown Housing Trust was the bond effort’s political action committee. Supporters included Flagler System, the Bear’s Club Development Company and Pinnacle Communities, an affordable housing developer based in Miami.

The Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach, a non-profit organization that is working to address the housing affordability problem supported the bond. It created “Housing for All,” a housing action plan designed for Palm Beach County that has not been adopted by the county commission. The bond is an important part of the “Housing for All” program.

Earlier this year, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced the launch of a $70 million Building Blocks Fund to address South Florida’s affordability crisis. The fund is part of the Building Blocks program. It will be used to build new affordable and workforce housing projects in Miami-Dade County. The County will dedicate $15 million to the impact pool, along with $55 million in commitments from private and non-profit partners.

Related story: Bad reputation? Miami-Dade County's affordability problem continues to vex officials 

David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers city government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.

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