Housing costs a high burden for renters in Southwest Florida

Lee Herald Favicon 16Lee and Collier County renters are spending too high a percentage of their income on housing costs according to a Harvard study.

Half of renters in the Naples metro are cost-burdened according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Study, and 24.6 percent are considered severely burdened. In the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro, 51 percent are considered cost burdened and 22 percent qualify as severely burdened. A cost burdened renter is defined as one who pays more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, including utilities. Severely cost-burdened renters pay more than 50 percent on housing and utilities.

Ryan Von Weller, the Director of Land Acquisition for Wendover Housing, a Florida-based developer that specializes in multifamily housing, explained that a high cost-burden can have a major impact on a household’s ability to meet their other needs.

“You are spending a disproportionate amount of your annual income on housing,” said Von Weller. “When you get up over 50 percent it starts affecting your life in a number of different ways, dramatically. If you are spending that much money on your housing then you can’t spend it on other things that are important for a normal quality of life.”

Those numbers put Southwest Florida slightly above the national average. In the US, over 20 million households were spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing in 2016, that’s nearly half of renters. Florida overall had a higher average, with 54 percent of renters being cost-burdened and 29 percent being severely burdened.

A lack of affordable housing obviously impacts individual households, but it can also hinder general economic growth as well. John Schmieding, Vice President of one of Collier’s largest employers, Arthrex, told county commissioners in December that the company has had to send jobs to other states because employees were unable to find housing despite competitive wages.

“We simply can’t pretend that our obligation to house individuals is limited to a market focus,” said Schmieding. “As the market drives people in the workforce out of the ability to be housed in the county, companies like Arthrex will be forced to take a piece of the pie somewhere else.”

This issue isn’t going away, according to Von Weller, who said that Southwest Florida needs housing for average wage earners if it is going to remain attractive to businesses looking to invest in the region.

“Anytime a firm is looking to relocate or expand in a community, inventory of housing, particularly housing for their employees that make a median amount of compensation is of critical importance,” said Von Weller. “If you can’t provide that, they are going to ship the jobs elsewhere.”

He said that while the area is a prime target for affordable housing development, don’t expect relief within the next year. A combination of rising land prices and zoning issues have combined with a lack of tax-credit subsidized financing limit the attractiveness of developers to build for that segment of the market. Wendover has no projects pending in Collier County, and Von Weller says even with those barriers removed, it would take more than 12 months to complete a new construction project.

“We are very keen on the market down there,” said Von Weller. “It is probably one of the most in-need areas, along with the Keys, for affordable and workforce housing in the state of Florida.”

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