WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Residents concerned about the cost of living throughout South Florida and the Treasure Coast gathered Saturday at WPTV for a town hall discussion about the housing crisis.
The panelists were comprised of state Rep. Toby Overdorf, R-Stuart; Christina Pappas, a real estate agent and president of Florida Realtors; Jonathan Brown, Palm Beach County's housing and economic development director; and Dr. Ken Johnson, associate dean of graduate programs at Florida Atlantic University's College of Business.
Among those who participated was April Hall, a single mother of four whose current situation is one of desperation.
"Myself and my children were unexpectedly forced to live out of my vehicle," a tearful Hall said. "What can the county – someone – do to help us in this situation?"
Brown said Palm Beach County has a team dedicated to helping struggling residents who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness.
WATCH: April Hall, living out of her vehicle, seeks help
"Our community services department has a team that is ready, willing and able to assist families who are either homeless or at the risk of homelessness, and we work to immediately find you some temporary solution to your housing situation as the county works and as our partners work to find a more long-term solution," Brown said.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Priced Out of Paradise
Ezra Krieg, who lives in Delray Beach, asked what led to the housing crisis to which Floridians now find themselves.
Johnson said the accelerated population growth since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is mostly to blame.
"Rents in Florida rose very rapidly, primarily because we've had this significant influx," Johnson said. "We're growing at a faster rate than ever before, and some people are coming to stay permanently. Some are coming to stay temporarily, and we have a little bit of data that suggests we might see a little [decrease] in rents because a lot of the temporary COVID folks will be going back home because they can't work remotely from here and work in New York, but we're not going back to 2020 rents. We're just not going to see that."
As state lawmakers return to Tallahassee for a special session on the housing crisis, Overdorf provided some insight as to what government regulations, if any, might be coming to those landlords who have egregiously increased rent amid a soaring rental market.
Overdorf said the market "is really being driven by outside money" and credited the state with "creating opportunities" that have led to the population influx.
"People want to move here," Overdorf said. "Is the government going to step in and have rent control or other things along those lines?"
Overdorf said he doesn't see that happening.
WATCH: Should state intervene to regulate egregious rent increases?
"I see the market playing out," he said. "We are going to be getting additional rental units, additional opportunities for rent, and I think that is going to be an area that will, in fact, slow down the rise in rent."
Pappas said immediate help should come from those "people who are willing to build and turn their units into affordable units." She suggested that the state do more to incentivize those landlords who create more affordable housing.
"That's where I believe the state can drive some more incentives into our landlords in order to keep their units affordable," she said.
WPTV's one-hour special, "Priced Out of Paradise Town Hall," premiered Monday at 7 p.m. Watch the rebroadcast throughout the week on WPTV.com and the WPTV app on your phone or your favorite streaming device.