Weeks after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida, communities continue to grapple with the heartbreaking and widespread damage it caused. The Category 4 hurricane not only led to devastating loss of life, but it also exacerbated a long-standing affordable housing crisis, particularly with many Floridians now facing housing insecurity.
As state leaders shift into “rebuild and recover mode,” as Gov. Ron DeSantis recently stated, it’s crucial that policymakers at all levels of government across Florida finally acknowledge that simply returning to the status quo of housing affordability, particularly for renters, is not good enough.
Floridians, particularly renters in the Tampa Bay area, know firsthand that the devastating storm did not create today’s affordable housing crisis. It merely made it worse — and the data back up what so many of us can plainly see when rent comes due on the first of every month.
The Center for American Progress recently found that from May 2020 to May 2022, rental inflation — the rate by which the cost of rent increased, year-over-year — went up virtually everywhere in the country. But the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater metro area recorded the nation’s second-highest jump, from an increase of 4.9 percent in 2021 to 11.9 percent in 2022. Recent analysis from in the Times also found that Tampa Bay’s average asking rent in 2022 was $1,767 a month, up more than $200 from 2021′s average of $1,550.
A key driver of this rapid increase — quantity of housing — has been years in the making. After the Great Recession, construction of new housing cratered and has since been slow to return to pre-Recession levels. As a result, housing availability for both renters and homeowners approached near-record lows during the pandemic. This dynamic is particularly stark in Florida, where population growth has surged from 18.8 million residents in 2010 to 21.5 million by 2021, an increase that also includes people displaced by other climate disasters across the region.
There simply isn’t enough housing supply to meet increasing demand, leaving low- and middle-income Floridians to pay the price of that policy failure. This broken system is especially harmful for renters of color, who often face discrimination when searching for housing, putting affordable and resilient housing options even further out of reach.
That was the status quo that Hurricane Ian only exacerbated.
Now, people up and down the southwest coast of Florida face the daunting task of rebuilding their communities and their homes — often from scratch. Amid this devastation, however, there is a rare opportunity for state and local policymakers to change course and avoid the mistakes that have rendered Florida’s housing system so unstable today.
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Market forces will not solve this issue — in fact, they largely created it. To effectively rebuild and recover, local, state and federal governments must collaborate to dramatically increase the supply of housing that is affordable, resilient, and accessible to everyone, regardless of race or income.
That means public investments to support new construction, avoiding areas most prone to climate risk, and zoning reform that can increase density to make better use of the safe lands that have already been developed.
Sadly, storms of Ian’s magnitude and strength are becoming increasingly common, and our housing must be resilient and better able to weather the flooding and wind that devastated communities like Fort Myers. Additionally, as evictions continue to rise in majority-Latinx neighborhoods across Tampa, it’s crucial that investments in housing infrastructure are paired with expanded tenant protections that keep people housed and prevent evictions during times of economic challenges. Taken together, these policies lay out a clear path to bringing down skyrocketing housing costs for Floridians who are struggling to get by.
Unfortunately, the DeSantis administration is already fighting efforts precisely like those elsewhere in the state. Just last month, his administration took the unprecedented step to interfere with Gainesville’s zoning reform that would have brought much-needed density to the city’s downtown. This is not the kind of leadership that Floridians deserve.
As Florida rebuilds and recovers in the wake of Hurricane Ian, policymakers must acknowledge that the status quo is not good enough. Without bold public investments in our communities and housing infrastructure, Florida will be ill-prepared when the next storm hits. The problems that Florida renters and homeowners face are not insurmountable. We have the solutions. Now, all we need are the leaders who will deliver.
David Ballard is a Florida native and currently serves as the Inclusive Growth Policy Manager at the Center for American Progress.