High Housing Costs Stretching People to the Limit (and Beyond)

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Another key “dot” that the we plan to cover and connect in the film is the issue of housing affordability. Being a “Floridian” now for nearly 3 years, this article at gainsville.com on local housing affordability in the Sarasota/Venice area caught my eye.  Just 11-12 years after the last major housing bust that crippled most of Florida, and many of its residents, the housing market has come roaring back in the most desirable areas of the state.

This is causing some major distress for many residents of the state, including teachers and other working professionals with presumably “stable” jobs.  Many are having to work multiple jobs just to barely make ends meet. This includes not just owning a home, which has become an unreachable fantasy for more and more residents, but renting one, as rents have also skyrocketed in many areas.  Many teachers are being pushed out of the local areas where they teach, and are forced to commute extremely long distances each day to make ends meet.  The societal ripple effects of this dynamic playing out all across the country are multitudinous.

Here’s a key excerpt from the article:

Based on the USA TODAY analysis not a single county pays starting teachers enough to meet that threshold. The situation barely improves once teachers start moving up the pay scale. Only three districts — Escambia, Leon and Putnam — have a median salary that meets the state’s relatively high cost of living.

Rising housing costs in population centers have made it nearly impossible for teachers to live where they work. The problem is most prevalent in Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys, where teachers must put nearly two-thirds of their take-home pay into housing costs alone. Of 155 rental listings on Zillow, only five are available for $1,333 or less — the amount it would take to make things affordable for a teacher making the district’s median pay.

The ramifications of these dynamics playing out could reach far and wide in the state of Florida and others across the nation:

A 10-year teaching veteran in Sarasota County Schools, Stringer is struggling to stretch her $57,423 annual salary to cover the costs of housing, putting two kids through college and her own roughly $15,000 student debt from earning her master’s degree.

Her spare hours are filled with waitressing, tutoring, proctoring practice SAT classes and renting rooms in her house. Colleagues across the state adopt those tactics and more as they seek creative ways to hold onto a profession they love as their paychecks seem ever more inadequate to pay for life in the Sunshine State.

“The love of my life is teaching, but I can’t keep doing it,” she said. “It is ridiculous.”

It gets worse, MUCH worse:

Teaching full time and working the deli counter at Publix in the evenings wasn’t enough for 25-year veteran teacher Holly Hicks to cover housing costs in Sarasota, where the housing market is driven in part by high-income snowbirds whose houses sit empty half the year.

Looking for quick cash that didn’t require more hours on her feet, Hicks has turned to selling her plasma. She gets $70 a week for three hours of selling her blood, and she has the scar tissue and needle marks to prove it. It’s not ideal, but teaching is the only career she knows, so her plasma is a small sacrifice to do what she loves.

“To try and train and start something new is scary,” she said. “I just don’t know another profession where you can see the difference you are making.”

So, to sum up, in order to affording housing in parts of Florida, some are resorting to multiple jobs AND selling one’s plasma to get by.  What’s next?  Selling one’s first and second born?  A limb?  An Organ or two?  This is unreal.

How do we at least try and fix this obvious problem that’s at least contributing to much of the political and social upheaval we are seeing in the U.S. today? One common refrain is that we need market response and build more housing, and although this may well be one PART of the solution, it’s not likely the only one.  More from the article:

In Manatee County where growth has exploded over the past decade, only a handful of developers specialize in affordable housing. Bill Manfull, whose firm builds homes ranging from $159,000 to $192,000, estimates that he makes roughly $6,000 per home sale, and that is if everything goes perfectly.

“Our profit margins are very little,” he said. “No room for error.”

For Manfull to build a house, he needs to find an infill lot that already has water, sewer and electric hookups. The lot can’t be overgrown because labor for clearing the land eliminates his profit, and the house site needs to be near the street — every additional foot of driveway or water lines boosts the cost. It’s not easy to find lots that meet all those criteria — Manfull estimates there will be none left within five years — and the maximum he can pay for each lot is $25,000.

Without government assistance, Manfull said, building affordable housing “would be impossible.”

Changing zoning laws to allow for more multi-family housing would likely also help, but there’s a good deal of “NIMBY’ism” (“Not in My Backyard) in many cities around the country.  According to the article, and survey conducted by the National Apartment Association, this is the number one obstacle for builders to build more multi-family units.

How did we get to this point where even basic housing has become an unattainable luxury for many working Americans, who now constantly live on the razor’s edge of housing insecurity?  And seemingly not that long after the last housing crash/crisis?  What are some of the other possible solutions to fixing this problem?  I will examine and attempt to tackle both of those key items in future blog posts.


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