As rent increases the need for affordable housing grows

  “Oh, Habitat wouldn’t want to help me, I am too old.”

This senior, who I will call Jane, had called Habitat for Humanity hoping we could point her in the direction of an affordable rental unit. “I am not looking for anything for free from a charity, I just need an affordable place to live.”

The housing crisis is affecting everyone in Central Florida, including seniors. But many only picture young families with children when imagining those impacted by the lack of affordable housing in our community. Even the struggling seniors themselves hesitate to consider themselves at need for a hand up. But the wealth disparity our community is facing is being felt by people of all ages, races, and family sizes. And with affordable rental units becoming impossible to find, we argue that homeownership is the solution.

Like many people in our community, Jane had never pictured herself needing assistance from a charity. She had rented the same home for almost a decade without any issues, but her landlord had just let her know that she needed to pack her boxes- her home had been sold.

Property owners across the state are seeing the increased property values and taking the opportunity to sell their homes, many for well over appraised values.

The rental properties that are remaining are in high demand, and with increased demand the prices are steadily increasing. The stories of the families entering our program are unique, but all have one thing in common- their rent keeps going up.

One of the new future homebuyers in our program is Jessica. Jes is a single mother with two daughters, working in customer support. She shared that when she moved into her apartment three years ago it was a low-income apartment complex and she paid $750 per month. Today, after not just one but two price increases in the past year, she pays $1,125 for her two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. The real kicker? That is still below average for a two-bedroom- in Central Florida the average two-bedroom apartment is going for $1,250 a month!

Jes is always sure to count her blessings. She shared she is so grateful that she is considered an essential worker, unlike many others who have lost their income in the past year. She even received a raise recently! But that raise has been both a blessing and a curse, because her raise means she no longer qualifies for government assistance to help feed herself and her girls. We hear reports of this often- where families feel like their two steps forward requires one step backward, constantly running forward on a conveyor belt determined to send you back.

The housing market lately has felt more like a roller coaster then a conveyor belt. Luckily, the market is already starting to re-stabilize, but the effects felt by renters like Jane and Jes are permanent. Affordable places to rent are becoming harder and harder to find, and individuals and families are wondering how they can stretch their income to afford a roof over their head.

At a Housing Advisory Board Meeting in July, hosted by UCF, I sat with others concerned about the housing market’s effect on our community. People around the table asked:

  • Housing voucher requests have increased by 300% since before the pandemic, how do we answer the increased need?
  • How will the shortage of labor effect inflation?
  • What happens when the moratorium is lifted, and evictions start?
  • Before the pandemic 1 in 6 Floridians were considered cost burdened… what is it now? If we couldn’t address the need then, how can we now?

The fact is that housing has been an issue in Central Florida for a long time, and the events of the last year have fueled a fire that was already at full blaze. At Habitat Seminole-Apopka we have had a unique opportunity to look at our history recently. We are celebrating our 30th year as an organization and this milestone has prompted a lot of reflection as we look back on three decades fighting the housing battle one family at a time. 

 In the past 30 years we have housed 550 people – including 241 adults and 333 children. When the need for housing starts to feel overwhelming, I remind myself that though we haven’t made a difference to the whole world, we have made a world of difference to the families we have had an impact on.

Families like Karen’s who purchased her home in 2002. The stability that affordable homeownership has provided her family is incredible. In 2002 when she applied for the program Karen was sharing a two-bedroom with her mother, grandmother, 4-year-old child, and 6-year-old child. She was working two jobs and going to school full time. Looking back at that time she shared that she was exhausted and constantly stressed.

Today, she has more time to actually enjoy her life, and even give back to others. In fact, eleven years ago, she took in another child- she had the space and the financial ability to support a child in need. And in March of 2021 she used the extra money she received from the COVID-19 stimulus checks to pay off her mortgage.

Karen’s story is just one example of the possibilities that homeownership provides to families in the community.

With a newfound energy from success stories like Karen’s, and an awareness of the need from families like Jane and Jes- we will continue to move forward. Habitat for Humanity will continue to address the need for one family, one home and one group of volunteers at a time.