Of­fi­cials: Hous­ing ini­tia­tive falls flat

2 com­mis­sion­ers: OK’d plan ig­nores chal­lenges low-in­come renters face

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Caro­line Glenn

De­spite unan­i­mous ap­proval of a new plan to ad­dress the re­gion’s hous­ing short­age, some Orange County com­mis­sion­ers re­main con­cerned the ini­tia­tive ig­nores the chal­lenges of low-in­come renters.

The plan, which passed Dec. 17, was de­vised by Mayor Jerry Dem­ings’ Hous­ing for All task force cre­ated in Novem­ber 2018. The 10-year plan aims to add 30,300 new hous­ing units by loos­en­ing zon­ing codes, iden­ti­fy­ing ar­eas of the county most in need of hous­ing, giv­ing bonuses to de­vel­op­ers who build in un­der­served neigh­bor­hoods and cre­at­ing a ded­i­cated fund for fu­ture projects.

The county will es­tab­lish an af­ford­able hous­ing trust fund pro­jected to raise $160 mil­lion by 2030 and a re­volv­ing loan fund for non­prof­its to tap into to use for hous­ing projects.

What’s miss­ing, county com­mis­sion­ers Mari­bel Gomez Cordero and Marya Uribe said, are ideas to ad­dress the peo­ple be­ing evicted from their homes or who are un­able to qual­ify for apart­ments be­cause of pre­vi­ous evic­tions or ex­pen­sive ap­pli­ca­tion fees and rents.

“My com­mu­nity is very much work­ing-class folks, mid­dle-class folks … and I feel like it’s not al­ways find­ing a place, but all the fac­tors around it. It’s not just say­ing, ‘Hey, we’ve got houses, now we can fill them,’ ” said Uribe, whose dis­trict in­cludes ar­eas east and south of down­town Or­lando. “That wor­ries me when you think of some­thing as a num­bers game. I think there are so many more lev­els to this than hav­ing avail­able units.”

Both Gomez Cordero and Uribe sup­ported the plan and ap­plauded the task force’s work but said they be­lieved it was miss­ing “the peo­ple el­e­ment.” “I felt it was im­por­tant to

sup­port it be­cause I didn’t want it to go by with noth­ing be­ing done,” Uribe said in an in­ter­view. “You can’t throw your hands up in the air, ‘Well, they didn’t do it right, we’re not go­ing to do any­thing.’ ”

Uribe said she’s work­ing with county staff on pos­si­bly ex­pand­ing the hous­ing plan in the fu­ture.

Dem­ings em­pha­sized the plan is just one com­po­nent of the county’s strat­egy to ad­dress the hous­ing cri­sis. There are many other pro­grams, county staff said, that specif­i­cally ad­dress renters. Still, there are 800 peo­ple in Orange County on the wait­ing list for Sec­tion 8 sub­si­dized hous­ing.

The num­ber of com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial evic­tions in Orange County was 10 times higher in 2018 than

it was in 2007. The me­dian cost of rent plus util­i­ties is $1,163 a month, ac­cord­ing to Cen­sus data.

Un­der the plan, the county hopes to en­cour­age de­vel­op­ers to build more di­verse hous­ing op­tions be­sides lux­ury apart­ments and sin­gle-fam­ily houses. By re­lax­ing zon­ing laws, the county an­tic­i­pates there will be a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of more af­ford­able town­houses, mother-in-law suites, du­plexes and triples, and tiny homes and mi­crounits.

Call­ing the plan a “great first step,” ad­vo­cacy group Or­ga­nize Florida has asked the county to adopt poli­cies to pro­tect renters and is cur­rently draft­ing a “renters bill of rights,” which it plans to present later to com­mis­sion­ers. Some have floated the idea of pro­vid­ing in­cen­tives to prop­erty own­ers who agree to fol­low the bill of rights.

Or­ga­nize Florida mem­bers have called on the com­mis­sion also to es­tab­lish a trust to help renters pay ap­pli­ca­tion fees and se­cu­rity de­posits. Dem­ings said the money from the af­ford­able hous­ing trust fund could pos­si­bly be used for rental as­sis­tance, but it’s un­clear if the fund will be used that way.

State Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith, D-Or­lando, rein­tro­duced a bill this year that would set up some pro­tec­tions for renters, in­clud­ing re­strict­ing the rea­sons for which land­lords can evict ten­ants, pre­vent­ing land­lords from charg­ing ex­ces­sive ap­pli­ca­tion fees and re­quir­ing them to re­fund fees when no units are avail­able.

It would also re­quire land­lords to pro­vide leases and evic­tion no­tices in ten­ants’ pre­ferred lan­guage, give ten­ants three months of no­tice be­fore rais­ing rents more than 5% and pro­hibit land­lords from turn­ing away ap­pli­cants be­cause they re­ceive fed­eral hous­ing vouch­ers.

U.S. Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, D-Cal­i­for­nia, and U.S. Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, D-New York, have also in­tro­duced fed­eral leg­is­la­tion aimed at re­form­ing evic­tion and screen­ing poli­cies “so in­di­vid­u­als with a crim­i­nal history have a fair chance at hous­ing as­sis­tance.”

Gomez Cordero, who rep­re­sents much of south Orange County, stood with mem­bers of Or­ga­nize Florida af­ter the Hous­ing for All vote and an­nounced she “wants to work with the rental rights bill.” She said that could take the form of in­tro­duc­ing lo­cal poli­cies or sup­port­ing Smith’s bill in

Tallahasse­e. How­ever, nei­ther Gomez Cordero nor Uribe has yet to en­dorse Smith’s bill.

Gomez Cordero said she would like to see the county look into pro­vid­ing le­gal as­sis­tance to res­i­dents fac­ing evic­tion, and said the county needs to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with the com­mu­nity which pro­grams are avail­able.

“Phone calls come into my of­fice with evic­tion no­tices that are not rea­son­able. I re­ceive phone calls from fam­i­lies, sin­gle moms who are sleep­ing in their cars at Mil­lenia Mall in the park­ing lot,” Gomez Cordero said.

Re­fer­ring to the 10-year plan, she added: “We don’t have th­ese houses now. What are we go­ing to do now?”

Cordero

Uribe

JUSTIN SUL­LI­VAN/GETTY

The me­dian cost of rent plus util­i­ties in Orange County is $1,163 a month, ac­cord­ing to Cen­sus data.

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