Central Florida has a well-documented and dire shortage of housing affordable to working families earning at or below the area median income.
New data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “Out of Reach” report highlights the widening disparity between income and housing costs. Florida continues to rise in the coalition’s rankings — and not in a good way. The Sunshine State has the nation’s 12th-highest housing wage: $24.43, defined as the hourly wage a worker needs to earn in order to comfortably afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at fair market rate.
The jobs that pay less than the housing wage are now heralded as essential, such as nursing assistants, grocery cashiers, stock clerks and order fillers, janitors and cleaners.
A worker making minimum wage needs to work 89 hours a week — more than two full-time jobs — to afford a studio apartment, according to the report. For a single-parent needing a two-bedroom apartment, a third, almost-full-time job is required, or an estimated 112 hours per week, to pay for housing and have money left over to cover basic necessities.
I commend Gov. Ron DeSantis for allocating CARES Act funding for rental and mortgage assistance. It is essential we help people retain their housing and avoid the calamity of homelessness. As our elected officials return to Tallahassee and face the budget challenges resulting from the pandemic, they must not sacrifice affordable housing.
The 2020 session was the first time in more than a decade that the Florida Legislature dedicated all of the state’s affordable housing trust fund dollars for housing. DeSantis found it necessary to veto a portion of these funds, reserving them for use in the next budget — a tough decision, as he had supported full funding in his proposed budget. These funds now remain in the trust fund, waiting to be spent in the next budget. Legislators must make the wise decision and invest our affordable housing trust fund dollars in affordable housing.
Covid-19 has reinforced how essential it is to have a home in which to protect your family from a deadly disease. Our low-wage workers need a place to self-isolate, should they be exposed to Covid-19. Their children need a safe place from which to re-acclimate to an in-school learning model and a stable home in which to sleep and study — or to learn remotely, if their family is at risk and they should delay returning to a traditional classroom.
As Central Florida plans its recovery, housing must be both a short- and long-term priority. Focusing on housing will meet the growing need and provide a boost to the economy. It creates well-paying jobs, it has significant positive economic impact, it increases tax revenue, and it is a draw for recruiting new businesses.
I urge businesses, foundations and philanthropists to view housing as a necessary part of coronavirus recovery. We must invest in the systemic changes that will create a better society for all of us. At its most basic level, a home is a family’s most vital piece of personal protective equipment.
In a year when the world has confronted many challenges, we at Ability Housing hope 2020 is ultimately remembered as the year we collectively committed to create a society that is equitable for all.
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