As the nationwide housing crisis becomes more dire for those who are the most vulnerable, South Florida has been ranked as the metro area with the highest percentage of low-income renters who can’t find affordable housing.
An annual report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released this month found that renters in the "Worst Case Needs" category increased 8 percent between 2013 and 2015, raising the number of households in trouble to 8.3 million and approaching the 2011 recessionary peak of 8.5 million.
In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area, 60.9 percent of 373,000 very low-income renters had worst case needs, which placed South Florida last or most desperate among the 15 most populous areas studied. The national average for cities is 43.2 percent. The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area of southern California was next worst at 57.2 percent. Phoenix was 13th at 54.6 percent; Los Angeles was 12th at 54.5 percent; San Francisco-Oakland was 11th at 49.5 percent and Atlanta was 10th at 49 percent. People looking for housing in the Miami area are in much more difficult straits than those in Detroit, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
"We are really lagging behind because we’ve done a lot of things wrong," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez. "There is a pressing need for affordable housing and we’ve been slow to address it."
HUD defines "worst case needs" renters as those who make at or below 50 percent of the area median income; do not receive government housing assistance; pay more than half of their income on rent or live in unsafe or inadequate housing.
"Despite continued signs of a strengthening national economy, the report finds that severe housing problems are on the rise," wrote the report’s authors. "Modest gains in household incomes are met with rising rents, shrinking the supply of affordable rental housing stock in an increasingly competitive market."
A shift from home ownership to renting has been a "sustained postrecession trend," the report said.
"Even with the supply of more expensive units growing, higher-income renters occupy a growing share – 43 percent –of the most affordable units. Only 62 affordable units are available per 100 very low-income renters and only 38 units are available per 100 extremely low-income renters."
The crunch is acute in Miami-Dade with its increasingly higher cost of living.
"The ideal model for affordable housing would have us producing 5,000 units per year that would cost $500-$700 per month to rent and we’re doing maybe 1,000-1,500," Suarez said. "We seem to be able to find properties that we can sell to sports franchises like Major League Soccer. In fact we do have hundreds of properties under county control but we don’t have an aggressive program of making them available for housing.
"Some factors are market-driven. We do have a high demand for housing way beyond our population because so many people want a place in South Florida."
A United Way of Florida ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report found that the minimum survival budget for a family of four in Miami in 2017 is $56,753 – which has increased about $8,600 over the past three years.About 58 percent of Miami-Dade families are struggling to make ends meet. A Zillow report says local renters in predominately black neighborhoods spend 58 percent of their income on rent while renters in Hispanic neighborhoods spend 55 percent and renters in white neighborhoods spend 42 percent.
Suarez said the area’s lack of an efficient transit system exacerbates the rent problem for low-income commuters.
"You have hotel workers devoting 12 hours per day in total to their jobs but only getting paid for seven or eight hours of work," he said.