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Priced Out of Paradise: Higher rent costs threaten Palm Beach County workforce

'Even though we give them a higher salary, it's eaten alive with all the increases,' restaurant owner John Ries says
Jervonte Edmonds discuss high rent costs in Palm Beach County
Posted at 12:21 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 20:00:13-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — To live, work and play all within proximity, that's the ideal lifestyle for many who choose South Florida, but that dream is becoming a nightmare with rising rent prices. 

"If you can't afford to get a high-paying job in Palm Beach County, you won't live here," said Jervonte Edmonds, a West Palm Beach resident.  

It's a 15-minute drive from home to work for Edmonds, and he wants to keep it that way.  

"It's important I live in this community because I serve this community," said Edmonds, who is the CEO of Suits for Seniors.  

Edmonds founded the nonprofit group that mentors at-risk high school students.  

"For the first time in a long time, I really felt powerless," Edmonds said.  

Just like many coming up on their lease renewals, he said the rent for his one-bedroom apartment in West Palm Beach shot up to $300 to $400.  

Jervonte Edmonds, speaks about high rent costs in Palm Beach County
Jervonte Edmonds speaks with WPTV Senior Reports Michelle Quesada about the rising rent costs in Palm Beach County.

"I looked everywhere, so from Delray [Beach] all the way to Palm Beach Gardens," he said.  

Numbers from the online rental website Zumper show that compared to last year, rent is up nearly 30% in West Palm Beach, 40% in Delray Beach and 52% in Palm Beach Gardens.  

From where he stands, John Ries, owner of Hot Pie Pizza, is seeing a different impact that the housing market is having on the workforce.  

"That's the main problem. It's housing," Ries said. "Unfortunately, the impact is you're going to lose the middle class."  

At his downtown West Palm Beach restaurant, Ries is the cook, washer, waiter and on most days also the delivery guy.  

"We're competing for human resources," Ries said.  

Between his two pizza shops, he's down 10 employees.

Ries said competition from food delivery service apps is making a fixed schedule look less appealing to the workforce. Rising rental costs, the price of gas and inflation are also contributing to the problem.

"Even though we give them a higher salary, it's eaten alive with all the increases," Ries said.

According to data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, showing average salaries in West Palm Beach coupled with the current cost to rent a one-bedroom according to Zumper, registered nurses are spending 27 percent of their annual salary on renting a one-bedroom within the city.

Elementary school teachers are spending 36 percent of their salary, and the average waiter or waitress without roommates will spend 75 percent of income on rent.  

"It’s unreasonable to put that kind of burden on the workforce," said Raphael Clemente, the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority of West Palm Beach.  

Clemente is an urban planner.  

"When you study what other cities have gone through and experienced, we're now experiencing it in West Palm Beach," he said.  

He said 30 percent of the county jobs are located downtown, but rising rents could push out the local workforce.  

"The workforce is what makes a place happen," Clemente said. "It's what makes the economy work, and yes we have to do what we can do to make sure that the workforce can be in reasonable proximity of jobs."

The current situation is shattering that dream to own a home, which may seem further and further out of reach for many.  

"I think that's the American dream that has somehow turned into the American nightmare," Edmonds said.