More than 150,000 people have left Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September and have come to Florida. This surpasses the number of Cubans who fled to Miami in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. Evacuees continue to arrive and are in need of housing and other services including health care and schools. It is reported that nearly half of the evacuees are arriving in Orlando, which is anticipated to be dramatically changed by the mass migration. While many evacuees have been staying with relatives or in hotels, they are increasingly looking for more permanent housing. Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott directed the Division of Emergency Management to activate the State Emergency Operations Center to “Level 2,” meaning that cooperation between state, local, and federal emergency management agencies will be enhanced. This was done in response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announcing that it will offer Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) to Puerto Rican families who evacuated to Florida as a result of Hurricane Maria. TSA refers to short-term lodging assistance such as covering hotel costs until the evacuees find long-term housing. TSA offers short-term relief, but it does not solve the percolating housing problem, which continues to linger and grow while the rebuilding slowly continues in Puerto Rico, where over half of the island is still without power. FEMA is also offering to relocate to the mainland about 3,000 Puerto Rican residents who are still living in shelters as a result of the hurricane.
The increase in demand for housing is putting significant pressure on a housing market that already has a short supply of affordable units. Orlando, for example, was already short approximately 75,000 units prior to Hurricane Maria. Orlando has continued to see increases in home prices (which rose at double the national rate from 2016 to 2017), and homeownership rates decreasing (consistent with homeownership trends for the state overall), and demand for rental units continues to rise. This combined with increasing demand for housing all throughout Florida, and with much of the affordable housing in the keys having been destroyed by Hurricane Irma, has many anticipating a housing crisis on the horizon.
State lawmakers are currently debating the funding of affordable housing programs, and recently proposed HB 191 and SB 874, which would prohibit the transfer of money from the State Housing Trust Fund and the Local Government Housing Trust Fund to the general fund, and require that such money be used for housing. Some local governments are taking their own initiative. Bonita Springs, for example, is in the process of hiring an expert to provide recommendations for changes to its zoning ordinances and development regulations in order to increase its affordable housing stock. Hendersonville has been waiving fees to lower the cost of developing affordable housing. Perhaps more communities will consider changes to zoning codes to allow tiny home developments, which have increased affordable housing in certain places, but which often face stiff opposition from neighbors when developers seek zoning approvals for such projects. Stay tuned on The F.L.U.D. Zone as we continue to explore Florida’s affordable housing challenges and possible responses including the tiny house movement.