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Priced Out of Paradise: What are the solutions to Florida's housing crisis?

Group to urge Palm Beach County to raise $200M in bonds for affordable housing
Posted at 11:22 AM, Feb 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-18 18:54:41-05

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Dawn Elder moved into her new three-bedroom apartment in Boynton Beach last March.  

"I love this place," she said as she walked by her view of a lake outside her back porch.  

This single mother of two planned to renew her lease until she opened a letter from her landlord.

RELATED: Read more Priced Out of Paradise coverage

Elder said her renewed lease offer was $3,900 a month for 12 months.

She was paying $2,790 a month.  

Dawn Elder, Palm Beach County resident discusses rising housing costs
Dawn Elder explains how the rising rent costs in Palm Beach County have impacted her life.

Elder makes a good living as a massage therapist and never thought so much of her income might have to go toward rent.  

"It's really not affordable for the middle class anymore," Elder said.

"We're the Wall Street of the South," said Mike Pappas, who has sold real estate from his office in Boca Raton for a half-century.  

Pappas said several factors are causing housing prices to soar, including: 

  • Financial service firms relocating well-paid workers from the Northeast 
  • Glut of wealthy baby boomers retiring here 
  • Lack of land to develop in South Florida 
Mike Pappas, real estate expert in South Florida
Mike Pappas explains the lack of housing in South Florida is driving up costs as more people move to the region.

"There's Everglades on one side and the ocean on the other side, and there's 6.5 million people that live here today," Pappas said. "So, the question I would ask people today is, 'Are people coming?' And if they're still going to come, we're probably going to have a problem."  

Elder said the problem is frightening.   

"Where do we go?" she asked. "What do we do? How does it stop?"  

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can act to help renters avoid spikes in rent.  

"He would be able to, once he declared a state of emergency, enact statutory consumer protections against price gouging," Smith said. 

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith discusses housing costs in Florida
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith wants the governor to step in to help residents impacted by Florida's housing crisis.

But the state attorney general's office said the spikes in real estate and rent are not price gouging. 

Proposals at the state capital that would cap rental price increases are unlikely to pass a Republican-controlled Legislature.

Instead, state lawmakers are considering measures to offer tax breaks for developers who build affordable homes and to banks that finance them. 

Some want the Sadowski Act of 1992 to do what it was intended to do.

Under that act, a small percentage of every home sale in Florida went to a trust fund for affordable housing.   

However, the act never had the anticipated impact.

Critics blame lawmakers for a practice they call sweeping, as in sweeping some of the money that was supposed to go toward affordable housing into other parts of the state budget. 

Jack Weir, CEO and president of Eastwind Development in Palm Beach Gardens
Jack Weir offers solutions to the housing crisis in South Florida.

"We can't look to Tallahassee for a solution," said Jack Weir, a developer who is the president of Eastwind Development in Palm Beach Gardens. 

Weir is also chairman of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County. 
Next month, the council plans to introduce a $200 million bond proposal to Palm Beach County commissioners to create 20,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years.  

"That will make a major dent in this problem," Weir said.

He said the bond money would help pay the monthly mortgage or rent for families making between $50,000 to $100,000 a year. 

"You don't ever fully solve the issue," Weir said. "But what you try to do is mitigate its impacts and move it from a crisis mode to more of a perennial problem." 

It's a problem for Elder, who is now looking for a new place to live.   

"I left Boca Raton initially to move to Boynton because it was more affordable to me," she said. "Now, it's not affordable."

She wonders if solutions will arrive before thousands more are priced out of South Florida.