A week after Habitat for Humanity called the housing situation in Collier County a “crisis,” a panel hosted by the United Way of Collier County looked to address the issue that finding a place to live is becoming harder and harder for working individuals and their families.
“This isn’t a poverty conversation anymore, this is about everyone,” said Lars Gilbert from the United Way. “Unemployment is down, but poverty is up because so many are living on the edge.”
Several organizations, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, recommend that households should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. According to Kim Grant, the director of Community and Human Services for the county, 43 percent of Collier households spend greater than 30 percent of their income on housing, with 22 percent spending over half.
Statewide, the situation is little better, according to a study by Make Room USA. 30 percent of renters in the state of Florida spend more than half of their income on housing, the highest in the country.
Issues regarding housing and affordability are often considered matters involving the poor, but the current squeeze is affecting professionals as well, including teachers, nurses, and firefighters.
The median home price in Collier County is currently around $300,000. According to Bankrate, based on the current interest rates for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, a $300,000 home would see mortgage payments of $1,416 a month, and to fit under the 30 percent guidelines, would require an annual income of nearly $61,000 per year.
The starting salary for a teacher with Collier County Public Schools is $40,400, the fourth highest in the state.
“As we progress, we’re finding it difficult to fill these positions,” said Ian Dean, the head of Human Resources for CCPS, adding that they typically hire 200-300 new teachers every year. “People take the job, then they balk at the cost of housing, the costs of living here. We don’t want qualified people to stay away for that reason.”
There are solutions, says Loryn Clark, the executive director of the Office of Housing and Community in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“We’re facing a lot of the same issues in Chapel Hill,” Clark said. “We have flat income, we have increasing price on housing, and we have have many people who can’t live in the community they work in.”
Clark said Chapel Hill saw success with inclusionary zoning, a planning code where developers must set aside a certain portion of new construction meant to be designated as affordable housing. Clark also said that they’re seeing an increase in rental houses, apartments and condominiums in Chapel Hill.
“Subdivisions are a thing of our past,” Clark said.
Some economists, however, criticize inclusionary zoning, calling it no different than rent control. A report by economists Tom Means and Edward Stringham titled “Unintended or Intended Consequences” argues that such policies actively make the housing situation worse.
“Between 1990 and 2000, cities that imposed a below-market housing mandate ended up with, on average seven percent fewer homes and 20 percent higher prices,” Means and Stringham’s study concluded.
Ultimately, argues Ashley Kerr of the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama, something has to be done.
“Why is important to us?” Kerr asked. “Because every Alabamian should be able to pay their rent and put food on the table. Every child deserved a safe place to call home. The men and women who defend our country deserve to return to a safe and affordable home.”
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