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'If you don’t think our problem is bad, look at California' | Advocates warn about Fla.’s affordable housing crisis

Family homelessness believed to be on the rise
Researchers found that the leveling-off of home prices is beginning in the western half of the country, where home prices have reached a so-called “pricing crown.”
Posted at 9:21 AM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 09:21:26-04

TAMPA, Fla. — If you’ve never imagined yourself homeless, 37-year-old Sharday Williams was right there with you. That is, until about a month ago when a dispute with her landlord ultimately forced her out of the home she had been renting for more than two years.

“We became homeless on Easter," she said. "My daughter’s birthday was Easter and we’ve been living in a hotel since."

With rent prices up in Hillsborough county by at least 30%, among the highest statewide. Williams, who works from “home” as a customer service representative has found herself homeless.

“I don’t understand," Williams said. "I work. I don’t make a whole bunch of money, but it can be $2,000 maybe $2,300 without overtime on a good month. I can’t find a place to live? That’s the most confusing part to me."

Just over one week ago, Williams and her four children moved into a one-bedroom hotel room at Karma Nest in Tampa. Her local school district referred her to the hotel and, she said, covered payment for the first week.

When asked what scares her the most, Williams responded, “that I’m going to be here for a long time. That’s terrifying to me."

Williams is not the only working mom to move into the hotel without an end date.

A few weeks ago, Reporter Katie LaGrone introduced the public to Angelia Woods. Woods is a senior financial services accountant for Florida’s Department of Transportation.

“I am what you would consider homeless,” Woods told us from the patio of the same hotel where she’s been living with her four children for nearly one year. “I tell my kids you work, you’re entitled to things. You take care of yourself, you’re entitled to things. So I never thought I would be in a situation like this. It shocks me sometimes."

Woods and Williams are among an unknown number of working Florida families experiencing homelessness for the first time. They are among the victims of a new housing crisis hitting people who work but can’t work out a budget to cover unprecedented hikes in rent prices.

While Florida has the third-highest population nationwide, it’s also number three for states with the largest homeless counts and that’s according to national estimates, advocates fear, are undercounted.

“The issue of family homelessness is a critical issue,” Family Promises CEO Claas Ehlers said. “The lack of affordable housing is the worst that I've ever seen."

Among solutions, he supports include what’s called, “inclusionary zoning.”

It’s a progressive zoning policy that allows local governments to incentivize private developers into building more affordable housing units. Across the state, cities and counties that have shied away from lifting zoning restrictions are now reconsidering it due to the affordable housing crisis.

“It’s not like if you allow quadplexes in your community that it's going to immediately turn into a bunch of tenements,” he said. “You can do this in a very manageable way and you can work with affordable housing developers to create really suitable housing. That’s one way of taking off the pressure of affordable housing."

Jaimie Ross, executive director of Florida’s Housing Coalition, is working with governments to find solutions and warns about the consequences if housing in Florida doesn’t become more affordable for the working class.

“If you’re not worried about our housing market, if you’re not worried about our homelessness, our families living in homelessness then take a look at California because that’s us in the future,” she said.

Williams is looking at moving out of her home state of Florida for a move north to Georgia.

“It doesn’t make sense for me to say here and struggle,” she said.

Woods is staying put but doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be calling the hotel her "home."

“It’s scary, when the hotel is cheaper than housing, that’s a problem,” Woods said.

While local governments across Florida are holding special meetings and conferences to find answers, a group of lawmakers recently asked the governor to add the topic of affordable housing to next week’s special session. Governor DeSantis has not yet responded to them with an answer.