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

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

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.


More to explorer

become part of our


Help us fight income inequality!

Get in Touch


Thank You for your donation

Poor the Movie GoFundMe Donation Info

David Himmelstein


Dr. David Himmelstein is a distinguished professor of public health and health policy in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, adjunct clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School. He has served as chief of the division of social and community medicine at Cambridge Hospital.

Nick Hanauer

Pitchfork Economics

Nick Hanauer is one of the most successful entrepreneurs, investors, and managers in the Pacific Northwest with over 30 years of experience across a broad range of industries including manufacturing, retail, e-commerce, digital media and advertising, software, aerospace, health care, and finance. He is a co-founder and partner of Second Avenue Partners, a Seattle-based venture capital firm that provides management, strategy, and capital for early stage companies. 

Barry Ritholtz

Ritholtz Wealth MGMT

Barry Ritholtz has spent his career helping people spot their own investment errors and to learn how to better manage their own financial behaviors. He is the creator of The Big Picture, often ranked as the number one financial blog to follow by The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and others.

Barry is the creator and host of Bloomberg’s “Masters in Business” radio podcast, and a featured columnist at the Washington Post. He is the author of the Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy (Wiley, 2009). In addition to serving as Chairman and Chief Investment Officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management, he is also on the advisory boards of Riskalyze, and Peer Street, two leading financial technology startups bringing transparency and analytics to the investment business.

Barry has named one of the “15 Most Important Economic Journalists” in the United States, and has been called one of The 25 Most Dangerous People in Financial Media. When not working, he can be found with his wife and their two dogs on the north shore of Long Island.

Richard Florida

City Lab

Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, and a distinguished fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate and visiting fellow at Florida International University.

Janet Gornick

CUNY-Stone Center

Janet Gornick attended Harvard University, where she was awarded a B.A. (psychology and social relations, 1980), an M.P.A. (Kennedy School, 1987), and a Ph.D. (political economy and government, 1994). She is currently a professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. From September 2006 to August 2016, she served as director of LIS (formerly the Luxembourg Income Study), a cross‐national data archive and research center located in Luxembourg, with a satellite office at The Graduate Center. Since September 2016, she has served as director of the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Center on Socio‐Economic Inequality. The Stone Center includes the LIS satellite office, known as the US Office of LIS.

Ken Jacobs

UC Berkeley Labor Center

Ken Jacobs is the chair of the Labor Center, where he has been a labor specialist since 2002. His areas of specialization include low-wage work, labor standards policies, and health care coverage. He has recently worked on economic impact studies of proposed minimum wage laws for the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Jose, and conducted analyses of the public cost of low-wage work. Jacobs is the co-editor, with Michael Reich and Miranda Dietz, of When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level (University of California Press), an edited volume on the impacts of labor standards policies in San Francisco.

Steven Pitts

UC Berkeley Labor Center

Steven Pitts came to the Labor Center in August of 2001 from Houston, Texas. Steven received his Ph.D. in economics with an emphasis on urban economics from the University of Houston in 1994. His master’s degree is also from the University of Houston and he holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. For the fifteen years prior to his arrival at the Labor Center, Steven taught economics at Houston Community College and, for five years, he was an adjunct lecturer in the African American Studies Program at the University of Houston. At the Labor Center, Steven focuses on issues of job quality and Black workers. In this arena, he has published reports on employment issues in the Black community, initiated a Black union leadership school, and shaped projects designed to build solidarity between Black and Latino immigrant workers. Currently, a major area of his work involves providing technical assistance to efforts in developing Black worker centers around the country.

April Sims


April Sims was elected Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO by its affiliated unions in December 2018 and she began her four-year term on Jan. 5, 2019. She is the first woman of color to be elected as a WSLC executive officer.

April has served as the WSLC’s Political and Strategic Campaign Director since November 2017, working to develop shared agendas with labor and community partners, to advance strategic organizing campaigns (raising wages, naturalization, revenue reform, etc.), and to recruit, train and elect political champions for working people. She first joined the WSLC in September 2015 as Field Mobilization Director, working with WSLC-affiliated unions and community partners to support and encourage the participation of individual members with many different political, legislative and community programs.

Prior to joining the WSLC staff, Sims served as the Legislative and Political Action Field Coordinator for the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28 (WFSE), where she was responsible for member education, communication, and mobilization around legislative issues and political campaigns. She was a WFSE member, shop steward, elected union officer, and union staffer from 2002-15.

Kathryn Edin

Princeton University

Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work: How do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work? Why do they end up as single mothers in the first place? Where are the fathers and why do they disengage from their children’s lives? How have the lives of the single mothers changed as a result of welfare reform? The hallmark of her research is her direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income women, men, and children.

Gary Evans

Cornell University

Professor Evans is an environmental and developmental psychologist interested in how the physical environment affects human health and well being among children. His specific areas of expertise include the environment of childhood poverty, children’s environments (housing, schools, playgrounds, toys), cumulative risk and child development, environmental stressors, and the development of children’s environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Olga Miranda


Olga is President of SEIU Local 87 in San Francisco. The SEIU was founded in 1921 in Chicago as the Building Services Employees Union (BSEU); its first members were janitors, elevator operators, and window washers.
Today SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America, uniting workers in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Over 25 percent of our members whom identify as immigrants – a constant tribute to the union’s roots. From the start, SEIU has embraced its heritage as a union of immigrants and has stood on the frontline of immigrant justice.

“People open their lives and homes to us, for me it becomes not only a privilege but a responsibility to make sure their stories are told. We have to be brutally honest and empathetic when telling their stories. When it comes to filming families, the right thing to do is be their advocate and make sure people don’t look away. “
Jillian Hurley

Stephanie Porta

Organize Florida

As a community organizer, Stephanie Porta has spent the last 15 years working to support Florida’s low income communities in their fight for equity and dignity. Her work has led to raising Florida’s minimum wage in 2004, passing police accountability reforms, winning foreclosure prevention programs, affordable utility campaigns, electing progressive officials and much more.

In 2010, Stephanie co-founded Organize Florida to work on the needs of Florida’s low and moderate income communities and now acts as Executive Director. The membership organization has grown quickly and has membership in 17 counties across mid-Florida. In 2014, Stephanie championed efforts to pass Earned Sick Time in Orange County, and in 2016 supported outreach efforts to more than two million voters across Florida. Stephanie has been recognized by the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando Weekly, Orlando Magazine & Orlando Women’s Magazine for leadership on government transparency and issues facing the working poor.

Beth Babcock


Elisabeth Babcock (Beth) is the President and CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), an international charitable organization dedicated to creating new pathways to economic independence for low-income families. EMPath uses its unique “action-tank” business model to design, build, and test new approaches for creating economic mobility and then shares them with other organizations and governments.

Mike Buchman

Solid Ground

Mike is the Communications Director for Solid Ground in Seattle, WA. Solid Ground works to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are root causes of poverty. Solid Ground envisions a community beyond poverty and oppression where all people have equitable opportunity to thrive.

Stephanie Kelton

Stony Brook University

Stephanie is a leading authority on Modern Monetary Theory, a new approach to economics that is taking the world by storm. She is considered one of the most important voices influencing the policy debate today.

Her forthcoming book, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy (June 9, 2020), shows how to break free of the flawed thinking that has hamstrung policymakers around the world.


Lawrence Katz

Harvard University

Lawrence F. Katz is the Elisabeth Allison Professor of Economics at Harvard University and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research.  His research focuses on issues in labor economics and the economics of social problems. He is the author (with Claudia Goldin) of The Race between Education and Technology (Harvard University Press, 2008), a history of U.S. economic inequality and the roles of technological change and the pace of educational advance in affecting the wage structure. 


Stacy Mitchell


Stacy Mitchell is co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and directs its Independent Business Initiative, which produces research and analysis, and partners with a broad range of allies to design and implement policies to reverse corporate concentration and strengthen local enterprise.

Mitchell has also written for The AtlanticBloombergWashington Monthly, and Wall Street Journal.  She’s the author of the book Big-Box Swindle. Her perspective and research are frequently cited in news media and she’s appeared on several national radio shows and podcasts, including NPR’s On The Media and Chris Hayes’ Why Is This Happening?


"Income inequality is the greatest problem facing America today. It effects our other two major inequality issues, racial inequality and gender inequality. Income inequality must be remedied or America will inevitably collapse into a Banana Republic without drastic legislative and societal action."
Dave Pederson
"How the war on poverty became the war against the poor."
Dave Pederson

Jacob Hacker

Yale University

Jacob S. Hacker is Stanley Resor Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. A regular media commentator and policy adviser, he is the author or co-author of five books, numerous journal articles, and a wide range of popular writings on American politics and public policy. His most recent book, written with Paul Pierson, is American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper—a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a best business book of 2016 according to the management magazine Strategy+Business.