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Housing affordability crisis

Sarasota commissioners took a good step that will help. But they and the county need to be bolder.

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One of Florida’s most dangerous economic issues — an issue that can choke the life out of Florida’s economic growth trends — is housing.

We’ve said it before: Florida is no longer an inexpensive state. Any image of fun-in-the-sun affordability is gone.

Consider this:

In the fourth quarter of 2000, just after George W. Bush was elected, Florida’s housing index (a measure of all housing sales), according to the Federal Reserve Bank, was 213.04. In fact, it was lower than North Carolina’s, which was 241.74.

Since then, Florida’s housing index has rocketed upward — 785.84 in the second quarter of 2023, a 259% increase, compared to North Carolina’s 637.76, a 163% increase.

That data reflect what we all have seen and felt. Florida’s single-family home prices and new-apartment rents are at an unaffordable crisis stage for the middle class.  

Brianna Dobbs, senior planner for the city of Sarasota, crystallized this at an Aug. 7 Sarasota City Commission meeting. 

  • Since March 2020, apartment rental rates have risen up to 47%, “some of the largest rent increases in the entire country.”
  • Average one-bedroom rent:
    • 2018: $1,000 a month
    • 2020: $1,250 a month
    • 2023: +$2,000 a month

The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment within the city of Sarasota is now $2,202.

And those amounts do not include the cost of utilities — another $200 to $400 a month.

Meantime, the median home price in Sarasota is now more than $500,000. In Tampa, it’s $430,000; in St. Petersburg, $413,000.

“A firefighter making $51,000 a year, or $24 an hour, should be paying no more than $1,275 for rent, and that would include utilities,” Dobbs said. “A teacher making $66,000 a year, $33 an hour, should be paying no more than $1,650 dollars for rent.”

Fact is, 60% of the people employed in the city of Sarasota are service workers, and typically they are paying more than 50% of their monthly incomes on rent.

This rental situation is only going to get worse. Likewise, the cost of a home. This is occurring largely because homeowners insurance continues to climb to unaffordable levels that are not going to subside.

Think this through. Both of these issues — housing and insurance affordability — are a result of a major imbalance: demand far outstripping supply.

In housing, you can attribute some of the problem to supply chain bottlenecks and a lack of construction workers. But the root of the issue is in zoning policies that limit densities per acre.

To their credit, Sarasota city planners and commissioners have been working three years to address the lack of what they call “attainable housing.” On Monday, the city commission took what local condo and apartment developers say is a good step. It adopted a new zoning ordinance that would give developers incentives to construct higher-density projects in the city’s downtown core in exchange for including at least 15% of the units as “attainable.”

It was a modest step, one we’ll applaud nevertheless. “Every little bit helps,” one developer told us. 

But it’s not enough. And for the most part, it’s too little too late for the downtown core. 

If city commissioners are serious and committed to having a city with a vibrant cross-section of people of all incomes, it must revise the city density codes for its downtown edge district and reclassify commercial districts to allow for high-density development. 

But this is not just a city of Sarasota issue. Sarasota County commissioners must likewise do the same in the county’s unincorporated areas on the edges of the city.

Existing residents will fight this. But economically, it’s in their interests to have the housing supply meet the demand.

Do you want affordable restaurants with good service? Then you need people who can afford to live here.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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