Why Are Housing Prices So High? Is There A Limit To Rent Hikes? Questions About The Sunshine Economy

Apr 4, 2017

The South Florida economy is more than a $300 billion  engine with close to 3 million workers and 6 million people. Tourism, real estate, trade and agriculture are key industries driving the ups and downs.

 

Housing costs are high and pay is relatively low.

 

These were common themes to questions submitted to WLRN's new public-powered journalism project Palm Readers. We tried to answer some of these questions.

 

(SEE IMAGE ABOVE TO COMPARE INCOME, HOME PRICES AND RENTS.)

Curious -  Sarah Graff, Miami

Graff is a medical student, wife and mother of a 4-year-old. She said she and her husband were shocked by home prices when they moved to Miami from Grenada. They were familiar with American housing prices. Her husband is from Wisconsin and she is from Southern California. "We set a budget and that budget got us nowhere," she said.

They increased their budget beyond 30 percent of their income, "but that started to interfere with our quality of life," she explained. They wound up renting an apartment.

The Expert - Kevin Greiner, FIU's Metropolitan Center

"Miami is unique in North America," said Kevin Greiner, senior fellow at FIU's Metropolitan Center where he studies the regional housing market. "Only two other cities — Los Angeles and New York — enjoy the same international profile. Miami is still a desirable place to live."

Since 2010, more than 400,000 people have moved to South Florida. Most of them came to Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Two out of every five people who moved to Florida since the beginning of the decade have moved to the four counties making up South Florida. That growth has far exceeded the new supply of housing units. The demand for housing is a big reason for high real estate prices, according to Greiner.

"Because Miami's market is so successful, the middle and lower levels of cost and affordability are where there's been a real shortage of units. With rising prices, a lot of those units are moving out of reach for middle-income families."

Population Fueling Housing Demand

The Challenge

"Cost-burdened" is the term used to describe any household spending more than 30 percent of its income on housing. Greiner's data finds one out of every two households in Miami-Dade County are considered cost- burdened.

That challenge is something that works against Sarah Graff starting her medical career here. "I wanted to apply for residency here. However, the No. 1  barrier for me to become a doctor in South Florida is the cost of housing," she said.

  

Curious - Margaret Cox, Miami

Two years ago Margaret Cox retired from her career as a special education public school teacher. She turns 68 in May and lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her 92-year-old mother. She has lived in the same large rental complex since 1997. Twenty years ago she said she paid $800 a month. Adjusted for inflation, that would be about $1,200 today. However, South Florida rents have been increasing faster than the overall inflation rate.

Cox pays $1,600 for the two-bedroom apartment, plus $45 a month for a reserved parking spot so she can park close to her door with her mom. "I've been here for a long time so I'm pretty sure I'm paying a fairly good rate," she said. "Each year my rent seems to go up different amounts so I wondered if there was any set amount it can be raised each year."

The Expert - James Carras, Carras Community Investment

No, said Jim Carras. He is principal at Carras Community Investment and a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government on housing affordability. "There are no restrictions whatsoever either through the state, any of the counties or any of the municipalities."

If there’s a lease, that will spell out the rental amount and how long that will be the charge. But when that expires, he said, landlords are free to charge what they want. That will depend upon the market forces of supply and demand, and by a landlord’s cost to own and keep up the property. A big component of that cost is the property tax bill on an apartment building.

"Commercial property taxes can increase without any ceiling to it." Residential properties can be be granted exemptions which limit annual property tax increases and reduce the taxable value. "For commercial property owners,  property taxes can increase to the market rate," Carras said.

And then there is demand for rentals. Since the housing collapse ended, coupled with the continued population increase, the number of homeowners in Miami-Dade County has dropped while the number of households renting has jumped.

Fewer Home Owners, Lots More Renters

The Challenge

A lot of personal spending can fall victim to high housing costs, especially for senior citizens on fixed incomes who are renting. Like Margaret Cox, they face the possibility of annual rent increases outpacing any increases in their Social Security, pension or retirement income.

In South Florida, the fastest growing population since the beginning of the decade is among those 65 to 69 years old, the traditional beginning of retirement.

 

"I don't do any of the fun things I used to do," said Cox. "I used to subscribe to the theater. I contribute a great deal less to charity than I used to. That's how I manage to keep up. I have to take away things so I can continue to pay my rent."

 

What should WLRN look into next?