Here’s how Florida should help renters and homeowners in crisis | Column
Moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures should be extended, a state lawmaker writes.
For rent signs. (Times | 2011)
For rent signs. (Times | 2011) [ Times (2013) ]
Published May 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis. In order to “flatten the curve,” we must do all we can to ensure Floridians are housed securely. We need bold action from Gov. Ron DeSantis. No one who has been financially impacted by COVID-19 should be evicted or foreclosed upon due to non-payment during this crisis and for a reasonable time through recovery. The instability and harm caused by mass evictions and foreclosures would have a dire effect on us all.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida already faced an affordable housing crisis. That’s why I fought hard to ensure full funding of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund this past legislative session. According to a 2019 study by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, 795,603 low-income households in Florida pay more than 40 percent of their income toward rent. About 15 percent of those households are in Tampa Bay.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, families that pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing are classified as “cost-burdened,” meaning they may find it difficult to afford other necessities like food, transportation, healthcare, and clothing. Wage stagnation and the rising cost of living worsen the problem. In our district, we see the human impact of these troubling statistics, as some constituents live paycheck-to-paycheck, unable to find an affordable place to live.

The governor extended the eviction and foreclosure moratorium from May 17 to June 2. This extension provides temporary assurance, but it is not enough. Rent and mortgage, along with delayed payments, will still be due on June 1. For those who have been laid off and unable to access a criminally broken unemployment system, paying past due rent and mortgage payments will be impossible.

Floridians need a chance to get back on their feet. The eviction and foreclosure moratorium should be expanded to also protect small businesses and extended for the duration of this state of emergency, plus a reasonable time for recovery. When federal funds are insufficient or delayed, the state should redirect its funds to local direct assistance programs for tenants, and to landlords to offer relief for tenants.

We need the governor to encourage banks to ensure forbearance for all impacted mortgage holders, including homeowners and landlords. We need to provide solutions for the homeless and incentivize landlords to release college students from leases they no longer need. We need to protect tenants and restore home rule by suspending, and ultimately repealing, housing preemption laws that handcuff our local governments from passing policies on rent stabilization and affordability.

This is not about landlords not getting paid or about not honoring contracts. It is about showing human compassion. It is about advancing solutions that support people over profit by ensuring marginalized communities remain in place while we all move through the impact of this crisis together.

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The governor has the power to bring all stakeholders to the table and issue bold proposals to keep Floridians in place. I urge him to lead.

State Rep. Fentrice Driskell is a Democrat from Tampa.