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Orlando lawmakers push for local rent controls to combat Florida's affordable housing crisis

Two Orlando lawmakers are pushing for cities and counties to have more power putting local rent controls in place to combat Florida's affordable housing crisis.

State Rep. Anna V. Eskamani and Sen. Victor Torres, both Democrats, filed companion bills HB 6053 and SB 1390. The measure would repeal Florida's pre-emption on rent control, which is a form of price control that puts a cap on the amount a property owner can charge for rent or limits owners from increasing at a rate higher than a predetermined percentage.

Florida law allows local governments to consider rent control only if there's a housing emergency that's so bad, it's considered a "serious menace to the general public and that such controls are necessary and proper to eliminate such grave housing emergency."

But even if local governments find that their housing crisis is a "serious menace," state law only allows this rent control to exist for a year. It can't be extended or renewed, either – local officials must vote again on a new rent control measure that meets the "serious menace" requirement.

Eskamani and Torres' bill would remove this last section that requires emergency rent controls to expire after a year. Both lawmakers point to Orlando's affordable housing crisis – only 17 rental units are available for every 100 extremely low-income renters in the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area, according to a 2018 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Renters in Orlando need to earn at least $16.33 an hour ($33,960 a year) just to afford a studio apartment and not be cost-burdened, which is a household that spends more than 30 percent of its income on rent and utilities. Average rents in Orlando increased to $1,472 in November, slightly above the median U.S. rent of $1,449, according to Zillow.

Low wages combined with no housing are contributing to the fact that almost half of Central Florida households struggled to cover basic needs like child care, food, health care and transportation costs in 2016, a recent report from the United Way revealed.

Eskamani says that the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the metro Orlando area is now at $1,320 a month, which means that a minimum-wage worker with a family needs to work almost three jobs just to afford that home.

"Florida families deserve all options when it comes to affordable housing, and HB 6053 gives local government more power and control to help solve this complicated crisis," Eskamani says in a statement. "We also know how dangerous an eviction can be on a family’s ability to ever rent again." 

Local leaders and activists are having a press conference on the bills and the affordable housing crisis on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 1 p.m. at 201 S. Rosalind Ave. in downtown Orlando.

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