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South Florida’s rent crisis, and Cynthia Barnett discusses the importance of seashells

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Justin Bright
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Courtesy of Cynthia Barnett
A live Lightning Whelk.

Rents are climbing, making life in South Florida a lot harder to enjoy. Plus, Seashells are beautiful and an important part of our environment, but did you know they end up in our toothpaste and our Tums?

On this Thursday, Nov. 18, edition of Sundial:

South Florida’s rent crisis

If you’re out looking for an apartment or house to rent you've probably noticed that rental prices have gone through the roof — pun intended.

South Florida is the worst in the country for rent increases, according to a recent Bloomberg survey. Our metro area saw single-family rentals increase by 25% year-over-year in September.

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One big part of this is because of low inventory. Also, landlords are making up for what was lost during the pandemic.

“We are in a severe shortage of units either to rent or to own. And Southeast Florida from Miami up through West Palm is incredibly popular," said Ken Johnson, associate dean of graduate programs College of Business at Florida Atlantic University. "We're expecting roughly a 14 percent population increase in the next 10 years in Palm Beach County and a roughly nine percent increase in population in Miami-Dade, with Broward falling in the middle of that. And so we have this huge influx of people and we're not building enough units."

Some argue that there is a lot being built in South Florida, but it’s not necessarily the kind of housing that’s needed the most.

“Especially within Miami-Dade proper, the buildings are going up. So I believe [the] shortage really is the missing middle. We have an abundance of luxury, at market-rate, apartment units that unfortunately go vacant night after night because the people who need them cannot afford to live in them,” said Daniella Pierre, president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP and a housing advocate.

We’ve already seen residents giving up certain aspects of their life to make ends meet and afford to pay rent.

“A lot of people first start out with sacrificing their entertainment budget, so they kind of stop going out, they stop their leisure activities, they may cut down on their vacation. But as it gets more serious, we see a lot of people dipping into their rainy day funds,” said Sun Sentinel reporter Amber Randall. “Even worse, we see some people who are priced out onto the streets and living in their cars because there's no affordable apartments in our area.”

South Florida’s rent crisis
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The importance of seashells 

Environmental journalist and author Cynthia Barnett recently published a book that will make you think completely differently about shells in nature, "The Sound Of The Sea: Seashells And The Fate Of The Oceans."

In her book, she looks at how the humble seashell really isn't so humble at all. It's the basis for so much of life as we know it, a key player in evolution.

Sundial lead producer Caitie Muñoz spoke with Barnett about her experiences researching and writing this book.

"The inspiration came from this very specific place. I was invited to the Bailey-Matthews National Seashell Museum on Sanibel Island. I was giving a talk there. And after the talk, I went out to dinner with the director who was telling me about a survey they did of visitors to the museum and to find out how much they already knew about seashells," said Barnett. "Many of these people were Florida tourists visiting with their children. Ninety percent of the respondents did not know that a seashell was made by a living animal. Many people thought they were rocks or stones, and I was so shocked and kind of disturbed by that. I couldn't sleep that night. I tossed and turned thinking about it and just, you know, the implications for what that means ... being severed from nature. And I think by the time I fell asleep that night, I knew I would write this book."

Barnett dives into the ways in which so many people don't know how seashells impact our everyday lives. One example: their limestone shows up in our toothpaste and antacids. After explaining the significance of seashells to different cultures throughout history, she talked about what seashells can tell us, humans, about better understanding climate change.

"The oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the extra carbon dioxide we've sent into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution, and that has made them a third more acidic. And that means that these incredible shell builders, which use carbonate from the surrounding seas, they're being limited in the minerals that they need to build their shells," said Barnett. "So that's one part of it. But the other part is that the more acidic water can actually bore into their shells and make them weaker. It also seems to be impacting their behavior, like in some cases, making them clumsy."

Barnett is hopeful that people can use their love for beautiful shells, and the creatures that build them, to work to reduce carbon emissions and work towards a more eco-friendly life.

"What's important about it to me, is this idea that seashells could be ambassadors to help people understand what's happening to the oceans and to marine life," Barnett said.

Cynthia Barnett will be speaking at the Miami Book Fair Saturday, Nov. 20 at 10 a.m. talking all about seashells and the mollusks that make them.

The importance of seashells
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Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.