Gust commentary: No single solution to affordable housing problem

As we head into the 2023 Legislative Session, I look forward to working on a comprehensive solution

Kathleen Passidomo
Florida Senate president
Editorial cartoon

Safe, attainable, workforce housing. When I moved to Naples almost 43 years ago, the community was talking about the lack of housing for our workers. It was a problem then, and remains a persistent problem today in many areas of our state.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo

In my experience, all too often the issue of “affordable housing” is stereotyped as a challenge for those living at the lowest income levels, with solutions that look like the dangerous, crime-ridden, big city public housing projects we see in television shows set in New York or Los Angeles, circa 1980.

In reality, housing is a challenge impacting our broader workforce and also our seniors. When you talk with Florida businesses of all sizes they consistently raise the challenge of finding suitable housing options for their employees.  If our workers lack an affordable, convenient place to live and raise their families, we will not be able to recruit and retain the workforce we need in the Sunshine State.

The aftermath of the pandemic, inflation, and now Hurricanes Ian and Nicole have exacerbated existing workforce housing challenges. Like other essentials, the cost of housing has grown exponentially. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in September was more than $400,000, up 13.8 percent from the previous year.

Rents have grown even higher. Rent in Miami is up more than 50 percent, reaching almost $3,000 a month. In Tampa, rent is up more than 30 percent, surpassing $2,000 per month. These costs, combined with the challenges of inflation on essential items, are difficult on Florida families. They are also a threat to Florida’s workforce, affecting even those with good, well-paying jobs.

While researchers are working to analyze post-pandemic migration across the country, it is clear to me the appeal of the free state of Florida has had an impact on our population and our housing needs. As I travel the state, I hear firsthand from countless families and business owners who fled high-tax, lockdown states in search of a better life in the free state of Florida. Coupled with the last of the Baby Boomers retiring in the 2030s, we have every reason to believe our population will continue to increase. We need to be ready. 

As our state continues to grow, we need to make sure Floridians can live close to good jobs, schools, hospitals and other critical centers of our communities that fit comfortably in their household budgets, no matter the stage of life or income.

We need to be creative and find new ways to better utilize already developed urban spaces and partner with businesses to find innovative solutions to meet their workforce needs. Government simply mandating private businesses freeze their rent is not an answer.  

Last year, we dedicated record funding to affordable housing, with an emphasis on home ownership. It is clear we need to do more.

I believe we need to be candid about the fact that the “American Dream” of home ownership is not the same for every person at every phase of life.

We need to recognize the changing needs and varied demographics of a diverse, mobile, and to a certain extent, remote workforce. The realities of blended families, multi-generational living, single parents, older workers re-training and entering new fields, all of these factors and many more contribute to the reality that not everyone wants to own a home at every phase of life.

We need affordable rental property for all income levels and families sizes. I want teachers, first responders and public employees to be able to live in the communities they serve. I want a young professional who works remotely and can live anywhere to choose Florida because we have housing opportunities close to vibrant communities. I want an elderly couple looking to downsize to have more options.

Long commutes place heavy burdens on a family, impacting finances, child care, and quality of life. We want our workers to be able to live local, with easy access to their place of employment.There is no single solution to this problem.  We can, and we will, take a multifaceted approach, looking at state and local regulations, existing housing programs, taxes, business incentives, and yes – funding – to comprehensively address these challenges. 

I’ve been traveling the state all summer and fall, hearing from employers, talking to families, and working with stakeholders to develop thoughtful, meaningful policies that can make living in Florida more accessible and more affordable.  As we head into the 2023 Legislative Session, I look forward to working on a comprehensive solution, so that more of our great workers can live local, raising their families in the heart of the communities they serve, right here in the free state of Florida. Stay tuned!

Senator Kathleen Passidomo was recently elected to serve a two-year term as president of the Florida Senate. She resides in Naples with her husband John Passidomo.