The Phoenix Flyer

FL Democrats call on DeSantis to declare emergency over affordable housing

By: - December 17, 2021 2:09 pm

Unemployment during the pandemic created an affordable-housing crisis recently worsened by surging rental prices. Credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Facebook

Rising costs of rental housing and even price-gouging are driving Floridians from their homes in numbers that constitute a state of emergency, say 14 Democratic state lawmakers calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take emergency action on housing.

“In Central Florida, rents have increased by 20 percent since January, in South Florida, rents have risen by an average of 14 percent across the board, and the Tampa Bay region has seen a staggering 24.8 percent increase in rental prices since July, the largest increase in the nation,” says their letter delivered to the governor Thursday. “We are calling on you to use your authority as governor to declare a state of emergency in Florida for housing affordability.”

The letter is signed by Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orange County, and 12 other legislators from around the state.

Specifically, they want an emergency declaration that would activate protection against price-gouging – increases of 10 percent or more — retroactively to cover rental increases over the past 12 months.

“During this holiday season, and after the incredible hardships that the pandemic has brought on so many Florida families, we believe that no child should worry that they and their parents will be evicted due to predatory rental price increases,” the letter says.

The Democrats cite data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition showing 40 percent of middle-income households in Florida are “cost-burdened” in terms of housing expense and that 89 percent of poor households pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income for rent.

“We are calling on Governor DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in order to crack down on landlords who are taking advantage of the pandemic to engage in price gouging and to ensure we are putting the freedom of our working families to have an affordable place to live first,” Farmer said in a press statement.

“People in our community are hurting due to unconscionable rent hikes they can’t afford, but Governor DeSantis is too busy fighting ‘wokeness’ and running for president to address the real issues facing Floridians,” Smith said in the statement.

The Democrats’ letter notes that state government has removed more than $2.3 billion from the Sadowski trust fund for affordable housing since 2001 for non-housing purposes, over Democratic objections, and that the state has been sluggish in distributing federal COVID-relief funds for rental assistance.

“This has put many people who could be helped on the brink of eviction,” the letter says.

Democrat Nikki Fried, state commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, has long criticized the DeSantis administration over federal assistance funds languishing in state coffers instead of being distributed to families in need.

Nov. 15 was a federal deadline for the few states still sitting on most of its rental-assistance funds to explain how they would pick up the pace or risk losing the money. Fried said Florida was sitting on $660 million in unspent rental-assistance funds at the time and demanded an explanation. The Department of Children and Families said it submitted the state’s response on Nov. 15, pledging to spend the unused funds by January.

Fried questioned how many families may have been evicted in the interim and joined the Democrats in criticizing DeSantis’ administration on its handling of federal rental assistance since he suspended a state moratorium on evictions.

“It seems to be clear to everyone except Governor DeSantis that there is an affordable housing crisis in Florida, reflected in his misguided budget priorities and the failure of his administration to expeditiously disburse federal rental assistance.,” Fried said in a statement for the Phoenix. “At some point, I would hope the governor would actually focus on the everyday issues impacting Floridians, starting with tackling housing affordability in our state.”

On Friday, in answer to a reporter’s question on the subject, DeSantis blamed higher rents in Florida on the president.

“First of all, what we should do is we should take that letter and we should forward it to Joe Biden in the White House. Because things are more expensive because of his policies,” DeSantis said. DeSantis also complained about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention having imposed a federal moratorium on evictions as a public-health policy until the U.S. Supreme Court revoked it on Aug. 26, although DeSantis too issued statewide moratoria on evictions month to month until the CDC took over with the nationwide moratorium.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]