When affording a two-bedroom apartment requires holding down three full-time minimum wage jobs, that’s the definition of a housing crisis. Tampa Bay is at the forefront of a troubling national trend: rents rising far faster than wages, squeezing many Americans out of the hot housing market. This problem touches every aspect of life in Tampa Bay and will require marshaling all resources and solutions to ensure the region remains an affordable place to live.
In an eye-popping Tampa Bay Times story documenting the reality facing Tampa Bay renters, reporters Margo Snipe and Emily L. Mahoney wrote that asking rents for apartments have shot up 21.7 percent since the beginning of the year. That has translated to small studio apartments going for $1,500 a month, tenants seeing four-digit rent hikes when their lease is up for renewal, and substandard conditions in lower-priced apartments. Safe, quality housing should not be a privilege for only the well-off.
But to cover the rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Tampa Bay, a worker needs to earn more than $24 an hour — nearly three times Florida’s minimum wage of $8.65 an hour. With the passage of a higher minimum wage to the state constitution last year, that figure will begin to inch up, hitting $10 an hour at the end of this month and reaching $15 an hour by 2026. Even with the higher minimum wage, hotel cleaning staffs and fast food workers will still struggle to find housing.
To that point, the solution is not only higher pay at the low end, but more higher-paying jobs. Tampa Bay has long lagged many of its peer metro areas in median household income and other indicators like education levels. Local leaders have made important investments in workforce development and strengthening the pipeline between community colleges and vocational centers and employers. But there is more work to do to help the region catch up. The blazing housing market has shown how wide that gap remains.
There are policy mechanisms available to blunt the worsening housing disparity. St. Petersburg, for one, has adjusted its zoning rules to incentivize the development of affordable housing by increasing density in some areas and requiring developers to set aside a percentage of new units for lower-income tenants. Other local governments are also continually exploring innovative ways to make sure housing is available to residents all along the income spectrum.
Demand for housing across Tampa Bay is surging and the real estate market is sizzling. But that demand is pushing rents out of reach for too many working residents. Keeping housing affordable needs an all-of-the-above response: continued investments in workforce development, better-paying jobs, responsive zoning policies, tax incentives, local money matched with federal grants and more. It’s a mark of a healthy local economy that working a full-time job means being able to afford a decent place to live.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.