Should Florida outlaw rent control?

As a new Florida bill calls for banning cities from being able to enact rent-control measures, it’s facing fresh scrutiny from elected officials who say it’s another instance of state overreach — especially as renters feel the squeeze of the housing crisis.

The $811 million affordable housing bill, recently unveiled by Florida’s Senate president, would eliminate the possibility of rent-control laws — a limit on rent to prevent price gouging — by “deleting the authority of local governments to adopt or maintain laws, ordinances, rules, or other measures that would have the effect of imposing controls on rents.”

The new state proposal overall aims to try to help foster affordable housing, through additional measures. Housing has “become a huge burden on our citizens and residents, and it’s something that we have to address,” Florida’s Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican representing the Naples area, said at a news conference, about her 93-page proposal.

But local officials say they disagree with the state again taking away some potential decision-making from cities. The new proposal is “just another example of the state Legislature overreaching and interfering” with local municipalities to manage issues at the local level, said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis. “It’s not one size fits all for the state of Florida, yet Tallahassee continues to inflict their sense of how Florida should run, how Florida should be administrated and it goes beyond just rent control.”

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer said as a “practical matter,” rent control has not been something the city has considered. Still, “we advocate for preservation of home rule,” he said. “Often local issues [are] unique to each jurisdiction and best left up to individual cities.”

It’s crushing to renters such as Destiny Hightower, 28, a single mom who is renting a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Fort Lauderdale.

She’s been paying $1,350 a month in rent, but the landlord recently told tenants it would go up to $2,100 when their lease expires “and they don’t fix nothing here,” she said.

The fast-food restaurant cook said she recently lost her job so she didn’t pay her rent this month and immediately got an eviction notice. Hightower said she and her three young children now face homelessness.

She said she wishes politicians would have more sensitivity to struggling low-income workers and encourage rent control — not make it harder for cities and counties to enact such action.

“It’s hard, especially when you’re doing it yourself,” she said Thursday.
Should cities limit rent?

City leaders agree that the state should not make a blanket policy, if for no other reason than the principle.

“I prefer the Legislature to stay out of local governments’ business,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. He said he would prefer the state Legislature to tackle issues such as “reducing insurance costs, reducing utility costs, rather than addressing problems that aren’t really happening in most places.”

Agreed Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich: “I do believe the counties should be able to approve ordinances that approve rent control,” she said. Not preempting local control “was always a mantra for the Republicans and now it isn’t. Municipal and county government know what the need is best in their communities.”

Not everyone agrees rent control is the right way to help people.

At a Joint Legislative Delegation Workshop this week, State Sen. Jason Pizzo said he was “staunchly against rent control,” saying you’d never tell a burger shop how much to charge for a cheeseburger. “That’s socialism and I’m completely against it,” he said.

The National Multifamily Housing Council said it agrees with him. The organization said only two states allow rent control; California and Oregon, as well as Washington, D.C. Other cities allow it such as St. Paul, Minn., and notably, New York City.

An organization spokesman said rent control tends to “causes the problem it attempts to solve,” said Jim Lapides. An artificial cap on rent is a financial disincentive to both landlords and developers, who tend to not get invested, which then means “the actual supply of housing falls, and raises rent for everyone else,” he said.
Rent control in Florida

If approved, Florida’s new bill could immediately affect the Orlando area, where voters in November approved an ordinance that prevents owners of existing apartments from raising rents at a rate higher than the rate of inflation. The rent-control issue that passed in Orange County imposed a one-year, 9.8% cap on rent hikes.

South Florida, however, hasn’t had any recent similar measures, but rent control was a hot topic here decades ago.

A 1944 headline in The Miami Herald blasted: “Beach Council swamped by protests on move to end rent control” as some people slammed the “spineless city council” in Miami Beach for considering the end of rent control.

At one point Miami Beach ended its rent control, but it was adopted again in 1969, and then overturned by the state Supreme Court in 1972 on the grounds the Legislature had not given authority to the city to control rent.

So the city came back swinging in 1974, approving a new law that said rent increases must be capped at 6% and must be first approved by the city.

Bolstered by the city’s good luck in court, Broward started to pay attention.

The city of Hallandale followed in May 1975 with a law prohibiting landlords from raising their rent and ordered a rollback to what tenants were paying on Dec. 31, 1974, as residents complained of rent that was escalating by double digits.

But the state took action to end that.

In 1977, the state began to pass laws about cities’ ability to impose rent control.

Florida law now requires counties to establish — with data — that there is a housing emergency, to pass an ordinance, and even then it needs voter approval yearly.
Seeking other solutions

Other regions have tried to work around the long process, to try to do at least something.

Broward County last year passed a law that requires landlords to provide their tenants with at least 60 days’ notice before landlords hike up the rent by more than 5%.

There is a comparable law in Miami-Dade, where “both counties found what they could do — avoid sudden shock of high rent increases,” said Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy. “Rent control was never on the table.”

Trantalis, the Fort Lauderdale mayor, referenced the state law that bans local governments from passing ordinances to outlaw vacation rentals. “These are the kinds of home rule that continue to plague municipalities like Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “It’s going to take a conversation with people like me, with leaders like them, to get them to understand the importance of neighborhood jurisdiction and home rule.”

Boca Raton Councilwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke said cities should “try to maintain home rule.”

“What’s good for one municipality is not necessarily good for another municipality,” she said. “Florida is a very big state and a very diverse state so I have a problem when we have to follow state rule, it doesn’t always work the best for the local municipalities.”

Even though no local cities recently have pushed for rent control, local leaders say that’s not the point.

“I do not appreciate the state once again preempting us from doing what’s right for our constituents,” said Cooper City’s Mayor Greg Ross. “I do not like being told as a municipality what we can and cannot do, as we know what’s best for our residents as opposed to state officials who have not visited Cooper City recently.”

Florida activists have called the bill “a direct attack on the Orange County voters who democratically passed a ballot initiative to stabilize rent.”

The bill “takes decisions about affordable housing out of the hands of local [elected officials] and gives it exclusively to the state, which is far removed from the housing concerns and needs specific to local residents,” said Chevalier Lovett, the chief operating officer of Florida Rising, a grassroots group that focuses on an array of issues, such as housing and voting rights, in a prepared statement.

In addition to ridding itself of rent control, the state’s affordable housing bill makes efforts to increase housing stock, in part, by offering “incentives for public sector and private sector development of affordable housing.”

There are other portions of the bill, including creation of a “consumer-focused” website to connect tenants with affordable housing.

The housing issue is grim for Florida renters, who saw rates jump 21% from 2020 to 2021 and continue to rise through most of 2022.

In 2018, the average rent in Broward for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,902; these days it’s about $2,911. Including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County, the average in the tricounty area is about $3,100, according to the Jorge M. Perez Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, a research institute.

In all three counties, there are more than 908,000 renters. Of those, more than 59% are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Of those, more than 60% are spending half their income on housing.

Despite the concern about rent-control prohibitions, Broward County Commissioner Rich praised Senate President Passidomo for the efforts. She told county leaders Tuesday that the county needed 150,000 new units, and the problem wouldn’t be solved by building more single-family homes.

“Finally we have someone in Tallahassee in the position of leadership who understands and is going to make a priority of affordable housing,” Rich said before the meeting. “She believes very strongly we have a crisis, and there are things we can do about it. She is committed to trying to something.”
Offering housing solutions

She said the theory in offering incentives is comparable to what Broward County is already doing: Last year the county announced a plan to spend millions of dollars to help with buying land and the construction of more than 1,000 new apartments. Officials said at the time if government wasn’t intervening, the homes may never be built.

“You have to give them some carrot to get them to be interested in doing this,” Rich said. “This is not a bad thing. This is a very good thing.”

But other local leaders worry the efforts aren’t nearly enough.

“While this might give incentives to developers, it gives little to help those” who are right now “experiencing this rent crunch that’s putting them in desperate situations,” said Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz. The effort is “solely based on some sort of hope of a trickle-down solution.

“That is not giving any benefit in the current situation in the next six months or the next 12 months or in the near future.”

Housing experts agree.

“We haven’t seen that support for affordable housing in quite some time,” said Edward Murray, associate director with the Jorge M. Perez Metropolitan Center at Florida International University. “There’s an unprecedented affordable housing crisis, not just here, but statewide and national. I don’t think it [the bill] provides enough, what we’re dealing with is unprecedented and it’s going to take unprecedented legislation.”

“I don’t think anything in the bill focuses on those who are in the greatest need: our renters, our working renters who provide the most of the support for our economy,” he said. “Those are the issues that still need to be addressed.”

Still, others say Tallahassee is at least paying attention.

“Any efforts is better than nothing,” said Tam English, CEO of the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing. “At least they’re starting to talk about it. The biggest problem in South Florida is there’s not much land left. I was just downtown having lunch and they’re building, building but they’re going for $3,000, $4,000 a month and that’s not anything for the working-level person. They’re all going to be too expensive.”

By Lisa J. Huriash
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Original article, from Feb 4, 2023 at 7:00 am: