The number of people spending more money than they should on housing in Broward County, keeps going up.
An estimated 77,000 renters in the county spend more than half their income on housing alone, according to a report issued by Florida International University's Metropolitan Center at the end of April - with data from 2018 - showing how much lower-cost housing Broward needs now, and for the future.
WLRN' sat down with the county's Director of Housing Finance and Community Redevelopment, Ralph Stone. He oversees housing programs and is advising Broward commissioners on what needs to happen so more people can afford to live in the county.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
WLRN: The last time Broward County did a study about its affordable housing needs was four years ago, with data from 2014. From then to now, what are some of the biggest changes?
STONE: Well, there's been an increase in the demand for affordable housing in the county. We continue to be in one of the worst-case situations, as far as affordable housing need, in the state and around the country.
There's been an increase in the number of residents that are cost-burdened and severely cost-burdened; if they're cost-burdened they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. If they're severely cost-burdened they spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. The combination of the two is up to about 147,000 people, and half of those are severely cost-burdened.
Is it inordinately high compared to other places?
Well, it is. What's particularly aggravating is, for people that are below moderate income, over 70 percent of their income is spent on housing and transportation. One of the worst in the nation.
According to the new report, less than 13 percent of all households in Broward County can actually afford to buy a house. What are some of the reasons why?
The problem is simply that median home price is one of the highest in the country - certainly in the state ($350,000). And the wages here are low.
The report talks about how the number of workers in low-wage service jobs is expected to increase. How will this affect the county's need to have more affordable housing?
The [Florida International University] report quoted statistics from the Department of Economic Opportunity at the state in regard to the estimated number of future jobs in Broward in the next eight or nine years. They estimated approximately 90,000 new jobs.
The majority of those jobs would be service sector jobs, which means they're going to fall right into this affordable housing need.
So, the average rental rate in and of itself is high. There are higher areas in the nation, of course, but when you match it with this kind of persistent low-wage circumstance, it adds to what I call 'the legacy bucket.' We're adding units every year to a rate of about 1,000 but we have these these new demands that continue to layer in on top of it.
The other side of the coin are wages because we're a service economy here. You know, the hospitality industry, the retail industry, food services... that's what we do here.
What are the steps that the county government should be taking to alleviate this problem of people paying too much of their income for a place to live or just not being able to afford a place to live at all?
We receive three grant sources, two from the federal government, and one from the state. That provides us funding so we can help people buy a home, or provide gap financing to build new multi-family development.
Here, in the last two years the Board of County Commissioners has allocated funding from the general fund to supplement those grant sources, which has been very helpful. They've allocated $5 million a year, for the last two years. We've been able to use that gap financing to build over 600 new units.
For renters and homeowners that see this housing crisis and think hope is lost, what would you say to them? Is there improvement on the horizon?
It's very frustrating because we get calls almost daily from people that are looking for affordable housing, both to rent and to buy. And the demand is so strong here that units that become vacant are usually occupied within a week.
When our new affordable projects open up, we may have 100-unit brand-new multi-family project that's ready to occupy - usually they are fully leased before they even do the ribbon cutting, so it becomes very frustrating.
That's why a lot of people are paying too much of their income for housing, or they're doubling up, or they're with family and friends - and that's how they meet their housing need.
View the full report for 2018 by the FIU Metropolitan Center, below: