Rental Crisis

By Joy Cooper Hallandale Beach Mayor

February 24, 2022

Well after two years of fighting and getting through the worst of Covid we are now moving into what the CDC is calling an unwind. Covid though seems to be here to stay. As we continue to learn of a new variant the goal now is management of future outbreaks. Our City Hall and departments are opening to in person service. I do believe we will be seeing employees getting sick with the virus mainly because they either still have not been vaccinated or they will be directly exposed since young children are still not vaccinated.

The problem now is this new normal has come with some big price tags. Gas of course has been on everyones radar. Filling your tanks can run upwards of 50 bucks depending on where you buy your gas. In South Florida our other big price tag is rent. Average rents for a 1000 square foot apt in the Ft Lauderdale area is now $2300 dollars. The range is $1200 to $2900 depending on location.

In Hallandale Beach we are seeing the same trend. A little over a year ago we had seen a steady increase from $800 to $1,200 for a small apartment but now the same apartments are going for $1600. This is a real problem especially with our vulnerable seniors and those on fixed income. I have received so many desperate calls from residents simply not being able to put a roof over their heads. It is both frustrating and heart wrenching.

During Covid there was at least some relief. Our city does not have is own Housing Division. While we provide affordable housing through first time homeowner opportunities through our CRA. Broward County controls all of the section 8 vouchers and rental assistance. Legally we only have a few tools in our toolbox for rent controls.

When we approve developments in the city, we have inclusionary zoning. Over 15 years ago I pushed for these regulations. They provide that a percentage of the development must be affordable, or the developer must contribute an equivalent dollar amount to our First Time Buyer Program. That’s one item in our toolbox. So, what can we do as a city?

One could argue that our rents have been somewhat on the low side at $800 dollars for a one bedroom in our city. So, owners that have been paying mortgages, property taxes, insurance and upkeep deserve a bit of relief. The question then becomes what about those absentee landlords that simply are raising rents and not doing a thing, some over $500 a month. For this problem we do have two tools to work with Code Enforcement and minimum housing standards.

Last meeting, I made a motion to have staff to begin to collect the data on the location of section 8 rentals. With this data we can begin to evaluate the standards of each property. In addition, our city is going to establish a rental property registration. This way we can have an easy clear contact for each property.

Many rentals are registered as a company. For example, ABC, LLC. Tracking down who is the responsible person to maintain the property is not clear cut. So often code sends notices and they are not responded to. The fines pile up and the property continues to not be maintained.

The interesting part of code enforcement is properties that are non-home-stead, can be foreclosed on. While this is a last resort the possible loss of ownership truly puts some teeth in our ability to get compliance.

While this process does not address the rise in rents, it will force the owners to make sure they are maintaining their property. Too often renters don’t want to report the property. They can, but it leaves them susceptible to retaliation from the owner, even further increases or worse evictions.

Our state legislators are debating this issue. The biggest problem is the lack of funding and the huge waiting lists for housing assistance. There is a state housing trust fund called the Sadowski Trust but sadly it has been raided many times and is not being used for its main purpose. For years we as elected officials have been fighting against them using it for balancing the budget.

Some may question government assistance all together, but these safety nets are so vital. This is not simply about housing it is about the workforce and schools. When we do not have workers, our economy suffers. When residents leave, our schools lose students and worse, funding.

While we cannot cap rents, we do offer some services. If you live in Hallandale Beach and are having difficulty paying your rent and are in an emergency, you can reach out to our Human Services at the Hepburn Center 954-457-1460. The Broward County housing Authority can be reached at 954-739-1114 or visit their website at http://www.bchafl.org/

As always, feel free to contact me anytime with your questions, concerns and ideas on how to make our City a great place to live, work and play! I am available by phone or text at: (954) 632-5700. E-mail me at: jcooper@cohb.org Or visit my Facebook and web-site at: http://www.mayorjoycooper.com/