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Florida House Democrats make final plea for rent relief ahead of special session

'We are at a point of crisis and desperation that I have not heard before in my time in office,' Rep. Ben Diamond says
Posted at 9:59 PM, May 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 21:59:33-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Democrats in the Florida House made a final push for the Legislature to take up rent control in next week's special session on property insurance.

But with only days remaining before the gavel drops, chances are getting less and less likely.

The plea came as prices continue to climb in the Sunshine State, no matter the location. Average Floridians have seen increases exceeding 28% in the last year, according to research by Florida Atlantic University.

Chanice Johnson had an even higher jump in her monthly expense. The Tallahassee woman recently told us she had to move after a more than 50% bump.

Chanice Johnson, Tallahassee resident
Chanice Johnson sounds off on the rising rental costs in Florida.

"We already have to make three times the amount you want us to pay and now you increase the rent?" she said. "You already know how much I make in income. How am I going to make this rent if you already know how much I make?"

During a Wednesday news conference, Democrats again tried for change, hoping to stir up support within the GOP majority that leadership would consider taking up rent issues when lawmakers return Monday to the Capitol.

"We are at a point of crisis and desperation that I have not heard before in my time in office," Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said. "It's heartbreaking to feel this disconnect between the conversations I'm having on the phone every day with constituents and then what I see happening in Tallahassee to actually address this issue, which is, basically, nothing."

State Rep. Ben Diamond
State Rep. Ben Diamond called the rent hikes a "crisis" during a meeting with fellow Democrats held May 18, 2022.

Diamond and several others wanted measures like rent stabilization. It could cap annual increases in Florida, much like what Oregon lawmakers approved in 2019. That state now allows for a 7% max increase in rent, plus inflation.

Adrian Alberto Madrid, the executive director of Struggle for Miami's Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH), said 7% was a reasonable increase compared to what is happening in Florida currently.

"Nobody's maintenance costs go up 25% from one year to the next," Madrid said. "It just doesn't happen. What does happen —landlords want more money."

The news conference was the latest call for action after similar efforts and letters failed to get traction in recent weeks.

Adrian Alberto Madrid, the executive director of Struggle for Miami's Affordable and Sustainable Housing
Adrian Alberto Madrid describes the problems that residents are facing trying to pay their rent.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has blamed inflation when asked about rent relief. He's also touted a new tax cut package which the Republican believes will help ease the burden of soaring costs.

DeSantis, on Tuesday, suggested property insurance would remain the big focus of the special session. Other topics didn't sound as likely.

"What I don't want to do is just load things on there and then have it run aground," DeSantis said while speaking in Okaloosa County. "If the Legislature comes to me and says they have an agreement on doing some of the other key things that people have talked about across a wide range of issues, then, of course, we could address that."

At last check, lawmakers had yet to receive the major property insurance bills for the special session. The governor has promised major reform to cut high costs and keep providers from failing.

Lawmakers gavel in at the Capitol on Monday morning at 9 a.m.