The Housing Crisis in Areas Affected by the Storms
Real life has a way of being very… real. Sometimes the unthinkable really does happen and what’s worse, the consequences that come with the aftermath of the unthinkable can be equally as merciless.
Florida’s housing market was booming until its devastating crash, which robbed people not only of their financial security, but also of their safety nets. Over the last decade, Florida has also been the worst-hit by the foreclosure crisis which saw over two million Americans owing more than what their houses actually are worth. While Obama developed an initiative, the Home Affordable Refinance Program, it did little to mobilize homeowners suffering the most, to keep their heads above water.
Popular Southern vacation spots such as South Florida have – coupled with a hangover from the crash – out-priced any other realistic solutions for low-income housing other than mobile homes and house-boats. Edward Murray, director at the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University put it simply – “This is the most serious public policy issue we are dealing with here in South Florida along with rising sea levels.”
If we look at the region, the statistics betray the unprecedented shortage of affordable housing with Palm Beach County’s reported house cost at well over $300,000, which is only accessible to one quarter of the households in the area. Rent is even more polarizing and typically less than 20 percent of renters can afford the astronomical $2,000.
Jobs in tourism – one of the main industry employers in the area – pay less than what one would expect and so trailer parks, boats and mobile homes have shown to be the only sensible option available to residents earning below a certain level. However, unfortunately these are also the homes which would be most vulnerable to storms and other natural disaster-induced damage. Enter Hurricane Irma.
With wind speeds of 60 mph, trailer parks like Sea Breeze and other Keys parks have been all but decimated by Hurricane Irma. At Sea Breeze in Islamorada, Florida, the 120 residents were of course always aware that their properties were so close to the ocean and also knew that they could be at risk to the elements. However many of them had zero other choice and were grateful for not needing to give up their jobs or commuting for ungodly distances.
What was their saving grace was that while the mobile homes in which they resided rarely met building standards, they were given a protected status of sorts to remain until the homes needed to be replaced. Hurricane Irma has mercilessly fast-forwarded that eventuality, leaving residents wondering what exactly they’re going to do.
For almost two decades, developers have been purchasing the property land on which these trailer parks lie and in some cases, they have been converted into luxury housing which once again out-prices tourism workers. In 2006, several affordable properties in the Keys were converted into five luxury housing projects. At Sea Breeze, if these homes can now be deemed as uninhabitable on the county’s judgment, residents are worried they will really have no place to go, this time.
The county’s most urgent priority is to clear the debris and to start providing long-term temporary housing. An oxymoron of sorts, Monroe County Mayor George Neugent realizes that “long-term temporary housing” would be a short-term solution, and that what their long-term priority will be is providing for the existing demand for lower cost housing. Neugent has welcomed any members of the public who have concerns about housing to call the county’s emergency line at their operations center to learn more about what options are open to them. The number is 800-955-5504.
Monroe County Commissioner, David Rice predicts that at least 33 percent of Keys properties across a 35 mile stretch have been obliterated by Hurricane Irma, and with an estimated 40,000 homeless residents, nothing looks hopeful. While the potential to rebuild on the trailer parks depends on the developers and of course what – if any – funding is available, it is still possible to find solutions for affordable and low-income housing.
The housing crisis in Southern states, particularly Florida, had already marginalized a significant proportion of the residents on which tourism industries rely. Many of these individuals did find homes for themselves in cheaper trailer parks, home-boat options among others. While not perfect, and not impervious to potential natural disasters, these residents had no other options which didn’t incur excessive commutes.
While developers tend to own this land, residents have been allowed to stay as they are until their trailers need replacement, at which point it is assumed that the land will be converted into luxury properties. Tragically, Hurricane Irma has put the residents of trailer parks in the Keys like Sea Breeze at great risk of homelessness and general uncertainty. There are still options, but their future seems so far to be extremely unpredictable and potentially disappointing.