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Residents in Lake Worth Beach urge officials to declare housing state of emergency, tenants' bill of rights

1Guatemalan-Maya Center immigrant families .jpeg
The Guatemalan-Maya Center
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The Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth Beach is urging city officials to enact short and long term housing policies to help struggling families.

Rent increases in Palm Beach County hit nearly 40% last year as demand outstrips housing inventory and the influx of new residents shoot up prices.

Nearly 100 residents in Lake Worth Beach have signed a petition to request a housing state of emergency declaration from the city. This is in response to rising rents and a lack of affordable housing.

The Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth Beach is urging city officials to enact rent stabilization policies that could slow rental rate increases and evictions.

Lindsay McElroy, a spokesperson for the center, says advocacy groups are rallying for long-term measures, such as expanding the housing supply.

"We are calling for a tenant's bill of rights, so that all the people can have a right to council, can have certain rights that they can't just be displaced from one day to the next," McElroy said. "We’ve some families have their rents doubled. They might sign a week-to-week lease and one week their rent is 800 dollars, the next week, it’s 1600 dollars."

The Guatemalan-Maya Center is a non-profit that serves more than a thousand working-class people each month, particularly in immigrant communities. They've noticed an increasing trend of people staying in abusive relationships for financial reasons, children and young adults forced to work to help their families, an increase in homelessness, and seniors being priced out of their homes.

In response, advocacy groups in Lake Worth Beach are urging the mayor and city commissioners to mirror Miami-Dade's first “Tenant’s Bill of Rights,” a county-wide law passed in May that provides more legal protections for renters. The measure doesn't lower rent or prevent the increase of rent — that's the limit of local governments, but the measure includes an extra layer of protection for tenants with past evictions on their record, and it makes billing property owners for repairs an easier process.

Lake Worth Beach passed a city ordinance in April that says for any rate hikes that exceed 5%, a landlord is required to give a 60-day written notice. That bill, passed unanimously, aimed to ease the burden on renters.

McElroy says a housing state of emergency would also encourage city officials to enact stronger solutions, such as addressing "missing-middle housing," a term used to describe mother-in-law flats, duplexes, triplexes and cottage court apartments that are less common or missing from walkable neighborhoods.

Infill development laws, which could add extra housing supplies in a city, would "gently upzone residential areas to allow more multi-family properties to organically grow, not have them be exclusively single family properties," McElroy says.

The center in Lake Worth Beach is spreading its message at a rally Saturday morning outside city hall.

"A lot of our families we serve are actually essential workers who are laboring throughout the pandemic. They’re the people who pick the food that we eat. They’re the people who are working in the grocery stores," McElroy said.

"They’re the people that have been constantly working and never had that woking remote experience, so they were always threatened. And now they’re the people who are most likely to get evicted." 

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.