The Crisis of Affordable Housing
The real estate market in Brevard County has made and lost fortunes with impunity since it was officially recognized in 1844. With a population estimated in 2018 of just over half a million residents, there is not quite room for everyone to have the American dream.
Home to renewed growth in industry from giants such as SpaceX and L3Harris, young professionals and savvy investors have found a market ripe for purchase following the real estate bust of the last decade. But with every boom and bust of the market, real lives are impacted. Property values rocket out of reach for those of median income hoping to purchase, and this, in turn, created a run on the rental market.
In 2011, Brevard County was rated one of the worst in the country for foreclosures, with the average home values dropping 53.4% since the peak of the boom. By 2012, the county was the highest in foreclosure rate in the country.
The numbers tell the real story of the area coded by Housing and Urban Development for Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville Fair Market Rent (FMR). Brevard County is considered very high compared to the national average. This means that Brevard is more expensive than 90% of other FMR areas. When compared to the rest of Florida, the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville FMR area is more expensive than 67% of the state.
For fiscal year 2019, a two-bedroom rental in Brevard at FMR is $1,000. In fiscal year 2017, it was only $884. That’s a 13.1% increase in just two years. But taking a closer look at that 2017 number reveals that the market does not always follow the FMR. In fact, in 2017 the Census ACS survey found that the average gross rent in Brevard was $1,056.
To put this in perspective to income, the FMR increased $116 for the same period that the minimum wage increased only 36 cents.
Who it Affects
Who are the victims of the affordable housing crisis? A perfect example is Latoya, a mother of three teenagers in Melbourne with no other option than to move her family into a hotel when her lease was re-written at time of renewal. Her rent was raised from $850 per month to $1,700 per month.
Latoya works full-time making $11/hour, well above minimum wage, but she faced homelessness when she could no longer afford the hotel. Without other natural supports, she made the hard decision to enter Family Promise of Brevard, one of the only emergency shelters in the county where she could be sheltered with her 6th-grade son.
Her story is one that is becoming more common as landlords seek opportunities to increase rental income on pace with current demand. Census data shows our county population has only increased over the years, promising more and ore renters for limited housing opportunities.
Latoya found success by entering Family Promise of Brevard with her family. The emergency shelter program allowed her an opportunity to save money for deposits and work with a family specialist to identify an affordable property that fit within her budget. Each family specialist is knowledgeable on local resources and works alongside the parents to create lasting stability through tenancy education, budgeting, and advocacy.
This intensive support doesn’t end when a family signs their lease, but actually extends for a full year, with 87% of all families fulfilling their lease and being offered a renewal. This doesn’t mean that a family’s hard times are over, but it does mean that they have a trusted expert to help guide them through the vulnerable period of rehousing.
While great outcomes like these are our goal each and every day, the process to get there is not simple or well-defined. When families are experiencing a housing crisis, they are often overwhelmed by conflicting information provided by agencies with outdated materials or well-meaning contacts.
Funds that support homeless prevention and rapid rehousing activities change regularly, as do the means of accessing them. This illustrates the importance of having a centralized system to provide services to households in need. Currently the organization designed to support this need is 211 Brevard. Its ability to respond 24 hours a day to Brevard County residents in crisis can’t be matched, and they are always seeking better ways to make and maintain contact with residents whether by telephone, email, or most recently their new texting platform.
Is there a solution?
Is there hope for a solution to affordable housing in our community? Yes. But the proposed solutions are nearly as diverse as the families needing affordable housing in our county each night.
The housing crisis did not develop overnight, nor will it be solved so quickly. As residents, we must be willing to take a hard look at the voting records of our local politicians who have regularly surrendered state-levels monies specifically designated to create affordable housing in our community. Since 2013, $19.5 million dollars has been swept by legislators out of Brevard County ($2.2 billion statewide) and into other corners of the state budget.
Another direction is by supporting the nonprofits serving Brevard County that have watched their grant funds dwindle each year at the hands of politicians. Those options aside, perhaps the first step to fixing the housing crisis is by recognizing that it won’t be fixed by any single action or organization, it requires citizens of every neighborhood, background, and political affiliation to stand together for change and accountability.
Family Promise of Brevard
Mark Sexton is program services coordinator at Family Promise of Brevard and also chaired the Brevard Homeless Coalition’s Coordinated Assessment Committee. His early exposure to the social services community came from employment in direct care and supervisory positions at Devereux’s residential site in Viera. Mark started with Family Promise of Brevard in June 2014.
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