As rents soar, middle-income Central Floridians fret

The rent is going up on Susan Tolksdorf’s two-bedroom townhouse in Lake Mary.

And the place is getting more cramped with her husband and two little girls sharing space. They hope to find a three-bedroom place soon, but Tolksdorf said they are already stretched financially.

When she moved to Central Florida in 2007, she rented a two bedroom unit for $700. Today, the same unit goes for about $1,400, she said.

“It takes a toll on our health to have to worry about how we are going to survive,” said Tolksdorf, who works as a receptionist and has a second job in retail. “We’re better off I’m sure than most, but it’s challenging.”

Central Florida rental rates have grown at about twice the national average during the past five years, according to newly released data from Apartment List’s Rentonomics.

As of April, it cost $1,280 to rent a two-bedroom home or apartment in Orlando, compared with $1,003 in January 2014.

At today’s pricing, a two-bedroom home or apartment is considered unaffordable to about 55 percent of the region’s households that would have to spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, said Chris Salviati, a housing economist with Apartment List. In Central Florida, about 40 percent of all homes are rentals, higher than the national average of 36 percent.

The rents are even higher in the suburbs. A two-bedroom apartment in Lake Mary on average costs $1,600 a month. A two-bedroom place in Oviedo is $1,540, and Ocoee/Winter Garden is $1,460.

That’s tough for people like Tolksdorf, who loves her quiet neighborhood and the elementary school her two daughters attend. But buying a place doesn’t seem possible for her, either.

“To buy a home here that’s in a safe neighborhood starts at $300,000,” she said. “We don’t want to be house poor, either.”

Apartment builders say they are trying furiously to keep apartment prices lower by building more units, but they are struggling to keep up with the region’s growing population. The region’s population grew by 60,045 people last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“It’s a matter of supply and demand,” said Chip Tatum, CEO of the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando. “We just can’t build quick enough to keep up with demand.”

Affordable, middle-class housing is on the minds of nearly every apartment builder, Tatum said. But costs to build are high, too. The region’s 2.9 percent unemployment rate means construction workers are hard to find and command higher wages when they can be found. Impact fees on new apartments are growing to keep up with needed roads and school construction, he said.

Tatum said apartment management companies are going to set prices where the market dictates. With occupancy rates for apartments in metro Orlando at 94 percent, that means rents will probably continue to rise.

“They blame apartment builders for the traffic and the schools, but it’s the employers that are adding jobs and bringing people here,” said Steve Ogier, president of an apartment developer Contravest Builders. “People don’t move here for houses, they do it for jobs.”

Developers did start work on a record number of homes and apartments in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Nearly 13,000 apartments and 16,000 homes were started in 2018.

But Ogier said apartment builders still can’t keep up, whether because of rising costs or hurdles building in high-demand communities. Cities such as Winter Springs and Clermont have put a hold on the construction of new apartment complexes after pressure from residents. Others have raised the fees to build, he said.

“Whenever you limit the supply of something, prices are going to go up,” Ogier said. “That’s how capitalism works.”

But apartment living is going to be needed with large populations of retiring baby boomers and working millennials, said Ed Kobel, CEO of Tampa-base DeBartolo Development. His company is working on five new apartment projects in the area.

“We think Orlando is one of the better markets in the U.S. because of a lot of job growth,” Kobel said.

But he said metro Orlando’s lower than average household income also means renters are price sensitive. The sweet spot for builders, he said, are apartments aimed at middle-class renters.

“There are a lot of fabulous apartments in downtown Orlando, but not everyone can afford that,” he said.


2019 Florida Vacation Rentals Act revival may come too late for some

David Hefner bought a three-bedroom home with a pool on Treasure Island near Clearwater for $700,000 in November as a “secondary residence” his West Virginia family would enjoy several times a year. He invested another $100,000 in improvements and renovations. “The home has everything – and it’s on the water,” he said.

Hefner said he always intended to buy a beach-area home that he could offer as vacation rental. Without subsidizing his mortgage payments with rental income, he could not afford such an investment.

His prospective neighbors were doing it. There were dozens of single-family homes in Treasure Island and surrounding areas listed on digital vacation rental sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway, he noticed.

Hefner did so, too. Within two months, “I had 22 weeks booked,” he said.

At $3,000 a week, Hefner anticipated about $60,000 in rental income from the home.

But that money instantly disappeared in a visit from a Treasure Island code enforcement officer.

Hefner said the officer told him he was responding to an “anonymous email” alerting him that Hefner was violating the city’s short-term rental ordinance that prohibits single-family homes from being rented for any period of time more than twice a year.

The officer explained the city was responding to a rash of complaints regarding “illegal rentals” and there could be “no exception to the rule,” Hefner said.

He had to cancel his bookings and hope the proposed Vacations Rental Act was adopted by the Legislature during its 2018 session.

“Knowing that the law might change, it was a glimmer of hope,” he said, noting the digital sites all assess the state-local 13 percent sales tax, meaning he would have paid $7,800 in taxes to local and state governments.

The Vacations Rental Act – Senate Bill 1400, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and House Bill 773, sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud – imposed state preemption in regulating short-term rentals.

The bill proposed removing short-term vacation rentals from hotel and motel regulations, and establishing a uniform inspection program conducted by the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

Proponents said state preemption was necessary to protect private landowners rights and unshackle the restrictions on private homeowners – such as Hefner – to participate in a growing $31 billion state short-term rental industry from a restrictive local regulation.

Opponents, including local governments and the state’s hospitality industry, argued the bill would preclude homeowners from managing their own neighborhoods, claiming it was another example of the Republican-led legislature using preemption to strip municipalities of their capacities to address street-level concerns.

SB 1400 passed the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, but never made it out the chamber’s appropriations and community affairs committees for a floor vote. HB 773 also never made it out of committee. Similar 2017 bills shared the same fates.

Proponents say the measures got lost in the time crunch after the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland became a pressing priority during the last three weeks of the 60-day session that adjourned March 9.

Opponents said pressure by local government advocates and hotel industry representatives, such as the Greater Miami and The Beaches Hotel Association, made passage highly unlikely.

Nevertheless, Vacation Rental Act proponents say they will try again to get the bill introduced and passed in 2019.

Florida Vacation Rental Management Association (FLVRMA) President Jennifer Frankenstein-Harris told members that despite bills restricting local regulation of short-term rentals failed two years in a row, the fight is not over but just beginning.

“The truth is, we are only in the midst of this discussion,” she said. “As president, I personally guarantee the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association will continue to bring forth education and a fierce determination to fight for the rights of property owners across the state of Florida. I assure you this fight is far from over.”

Florida Airbnb spokesman Benjamin Breit said “it’s too early to tell” if Airbnb will again lobby for the measure, noting it will be querying November election candidates about their views on vacation rentals.

“From our post-session conversations with state lawmakers and our 45,000-plus statewide hosts, it certainly appears there is an appetite to revisit this issue in order to provide regulatory certainty for an industry that infuses hundreds of millions of dollars into Florida’s economy,” Breit said.

Indeed, the vacation rentals issue could be a state Legislature campaign issue, said Kurt Wenner, vice president for research with Florida TaxWatch.

Wenner said Florida TaxWatch has never taken a stand on the issue but may do so soon. “That is something that we are considering taking a look at,” he said. “What kind of impact it has” on local governments and on housing values.

“Is it good or bad?”

If regulatory relief does come in 2019, it will likely be too late for Hefner.

“It’s a bummer to see that the bill was not addressed during their last session,” he said. “I’m going to need to sell my home because of local city regulations.”

“In fact,” he added, “my Realtor is actually at the house now.”

Photo credit: Mark Winfrey | Shutterstock

By John Haughey |

Publix to build new prototype grocery store in Indialantic on State Road A1A

The mystery Indialantic grocery store has been identified: Publix will build a concept store on State Road A1A alongside the Indialantic Center shopping plaza, across the highway from Sunrise Park.

“No it’s not a Greenwise, it is a Publix but nothing like anywhere around here (literally). They call it a Prototype or Concept Store, the design and products are designed around the special communities they support,” Indialantic Mayor Dave Berkman posted Tuesday night on Facebook.

“Someone mentioned they had recently been to one in Gainesville, ours will be similar but not exactly like it. I expect it will have fresh prepared foods, specialty meats/cheeses, organic, cafe seating inside and outside, etc.,” he wrote.

The prototype Publix may open by the end of 2019 or early 2020, said Matt Williams, partner with Matthew Development.

“We’re very excited to bring this level of tenant to a smaller town who we think could really use another grocery use. We’re excited — and we hope the residents are as well,” Williams said.

Berkman made the Publix announcement after the Indialantic Zoning and Planning Board approved the site plan Tuesday night.

Additional permits and approvals are required to make the store a reality. For example, Town Council must approve a stormwater maintenance agreement, Town Manager Chris Chinault wrote in a memo to Zoning and Planning Board members.

The 2.9-acre site is located at the northwest corner of SR A1A and Watson Drive. The proposal surfaced at Town Hall back in August — but the grocery store company remained unidentified, sparking social media speculation.

Hairteck and Sun Clean Dry Cleaners will be razed to clear room for the 27,251-square-foot grocery store with 110 parking spaces. Both businesses will move elsewhere, Berkman announced in August.

Messages seeking comment were left for a Publix media spokesman Wednesday morning.

Source: Florida Today