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Hurricanes Burden Affordable Housing Market

Monroe County Board of County Commissioners

For years Floridians have been facing a growing need for affordable housing. This year’s hurricanes are making the situation worse.

Low income Floridians have struggled to afford rising rental costs for years. That’s caused the number of homeless and housing insecure residents to rise. Then came hurricane season, which damaged many homes. Monroe County lobbyist Robert Reyes says workforce housing in the Keys was the hardest hit.

“This storm, the eye of the storm really hit the heart of our affordable and workforce housing folks. It hit between Marathon and Key West. And most of the trailer parks in that area were completely wiped out and older homes that are less expensive didn’t fair very well,” he said.

Reyes says even before the hurricanes, rental prices forced some workers to live on the mainland and drive up to two hours to get to work.

Reyes says the Keys' limited real estate, higher costs of living and construction, and local ordinances limiting growth made for an affordable housing crisis long before the hurricane made landfall.

Meanwhile a wave of new residents are coming to the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And William O’Dell says they also need a place to live. He directs the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.

“There are expectations regarding the impact of Puerto Rican households on the state’s affordable housing delivery system. And there’s every expectation that these need numbers are going to increase as a result of the in-migration of Puerto Rican households,” O'Dell said.

FEMA is still collecting housing data in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Lawmakers hope to use that information as they debate how to address the lack of affordable housing.