Hold in­dus­try ac­count­able on af­ford­able hous­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Jose Ro­driguez

It is re­mark­able that a com­mu­nity world-renowned for its hospi­tal­ity is un­able to pro­vide its own res­i­dents af­ford­able hous­ing. With over 125,000 ho­tel rooms avail­able for vis­i­tors, it is a sad state of af­fairs that many of the same work­ers who en­able our econ­omy are un­able to find af­ford­able hous­ing within the com­mu­nity they sup­port.

With less than a year in of­fice, Or­ange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings quickly be­gan mov­ing our econ­omy into a place that hon­ors all of our neigh­bors. In the com­mu­nity I serve, Com­mis­sion­ers Mayra Uribe and Mari­bel Cordero faith­fully at­tend to the needs of the un­der­served and ne­glected parts of the county.

Sadly, our new county of­fi­cials in­her­ited agree­ments and a sys­tem of cor­po­rate wel­fare that places the wants of prof­itable cor­po­ra­tions above the needs of our neigh­bors. This relic from pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions in­vites in­dus­try to meet with gov­ern­ment at board­room ta­bles in­stead of unit­ing ev­ery­one to meet and find so­lu­tions at a com­mon ta­ble.

Our county is in a unique po­si­tion to bring eq­uity to a sys­tem that has failed our neigh­bors. I ap­plaud Mayor Dem­ings in tack­ling th­ese is­sues.

As an Epis­co­pal pri­est, I am part of a faith com­mu­nity that vows to pro­tect human dig­nity. En­sur­ing human dig­nity en­tails that ev­ery­one should have ac­cess to af­ford­able hous­ing. This also means that wealth cre­ated lo­cally should not only pay div­i­dends, but also en­able work­ing peo­ple to af­ford hous­ing and still meet their fam­ily’s ba­sic needs.

Today 715,000 renters pay more than 50% of their wages on hous­ing. Lo­cally, cor­po­ra­tions are strip­ping fam­i­lies of the ba­sic right to af­ford­able hous­ing.

Cre­at­ing wealth through new de­vel­op­ment, fos­ter­ing en­trepreneur­ship and strength­en­ing lo­cal in­dus­try is the right move for our com­mu­nity. Re­spon­si­ble part­ner­ships be­tween in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment must work for both in­dus­try and all our neigh­bors. It is cruel to cre­ate jobs while keep­ing work­ers out of the com­mu­nity they strengthen. The same op­por­tu­ni­ties that draw cor­po­rate in­vest­ment into our com­mu­ni­ties are the same op­por­tu­ni­ties our work­ers right­fully want for their fam­i­lies.

As of this month, the av­er­age apart­ment in Aza­lea Park rents for $1,264 a month, ac­cord­ing to rent­cafe.com. The gross monthly pay­check for a min­i­mum-wage em­ployee, work­ing 40 hours a week with no va­ca­tion or sick time, is $1,466. Most land­lords re­quire fam­i­lies in th­ese apart­ments to earn at least $3,792 a month (three times the monthly rent) or a least $21.87 an hour. A sin­gle work­ing par­ent in our neigh­bor­hoods can­not easily over­come this eco­nomic bar­rier. The num­bers are stacked against our work­ing fam­i­lies.

This rent-to-wage gap, to­gether with un­rea­son­able qual­i­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments for hous­ing, wounds our neigh­bors. Nu­mer­ous fees, un­just evic­tions, hous­ing de­posit theft, dis­crim­i­na­tion, and land­lords who col­lect ap­pli­ca­tion fees know­ing they have no apart­ments to rent make mat­ters worse. This con­trib­utes to the ris­ing num­bers of home­less neigh­bors in our com­mu­nity. This must stop.

All of us should be vig­i­lant of poli­cies and cor­po­rate greed that shackle work­ing fam­i­lies. We must re­ject the false nar­ra­tive that the bur­den for hous­ing so­lu­tions rests alone on the tax­payer and our fam­i­lies in need.

If lo­cal in­dus­try con­tin­ues to use tax dol­lars to drive prof­its with­out eq­ui­table rein­vest­ment into our com­mu­ni­ties, then we must step up to pro­tect our neigh­bors. Our elected of­fi­cials must hold in­dus­try ac­count­able for hon­or­ing the dig­nity of our work­ers and neigh­bors. They should only col­lab­o­rate with de­vel­op­ers and land­lords who use our gen­er­ous tax in­cen­tives to pros­per our neigh­bors through a Renters’ Bill of Rights. State Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith has cham­pi­oned such a bill and it is avail­able for the County to con­sider.

If we con­tinue to per­mit cor­po­rate play­ers to come in and take re­sources from our com­mu­nity, our elected of­fi­cials have a sa­cred duty to en­sure de­vel­op­ers give back to the very same peo­ple that en­able our lo­cal econ­omy. Ac­cess to an af­ford­able home is the heart of this. Ev­ery Or­ange County res­i­dent de­serves to thrive.

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