High-rent crisis: Workers can’t afford to live here

High-rent crisis: Workers can’t afford to live here



(Photo: Andrea Stetson/news-press.com)

Population growth, rising land prices and stagnant wages are making Southwest Florida, and around the state, one of the toughest places in the country for renters to make ends meet, according to a study released Thursday.

“Florida has the highest number of renter households in the U.S. paying unaffordable rent, with nearly 1 in 3 renter households in Florida’s top ten metro areas paying at least half of their household income (before taxes) toward rent and utilities,” according to the survey by nonprofit Los Angeles-based Make Room.

Southwest Florida is no exception: 28 percent of the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area’s renters are “severely burdened” by the high cost of renting.
Younger renters are bearing the brunt of the crisis: 6,223 people from 18-34 were severely burdened, compared to only 4,257 ages 50-64.

Statistics released recently by Carrollton, Texas-based ALN Apartment News show how rental prices have escalated: for apartment complexes of 100 or more units in August, the Fort Myers area has an average monthly rental cost of $1,083 – up 14.1 percent from a year earlier.

The market is stretched tight, according to ALN, which tracks rental statistics across the country: this market has an occupancy rate of 96.4 percent, up 0.6 percent over August 2014.

Statistics weren’t available from ALN or Make Room for the Naples area but the crisis there likely is even worse, said Steve Sanderson, executive director of the United Way of Collier County.

“We have many hard-working individuals who I regret to say are just one paycheck away from a major challenge,” he said. “Their car breaks down or a health issue or another issue they have to take care of. And part of the reason is that what they’re spending on housing in our market compared to other places in the country is significantly more. And because of that, they have significantly less money to spend in other areas of their lives.”

United Way is holding a forum and luncheon today at the Hilton Hotel in Naples on the issue of workforce housing in the increasingly pricey county.


A whopping 28 percent in Cape Coral-Fort Myers are “severely burdened” by the high cost of renting. The first residents of Colonial Commons are moving in this week. (Photo: Andrea Stetson/news-press.com)

Christopher Westley, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute and professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University, said the lack of affordable workforce housing threatens future economic development as employers from out of town eye this area as a potential place to operate.

“One thing recruiters want to know is ‘Can our workers afford to live down there?’ ” he said.

The aftershocks of the recession are also keeping the rental market tight, he said. “I think a lot of people are choosing to rent because they had such a bad experience with the housing market crash and they’re wary of committing” to home ownership.

Connect with: @DickHogan (Twitter) or email dhogan@news-pres