Homelessness A Real Possibility For Some Students, Now More Than Ever Before

Melanie De Jesus, Reporter

College students renting an apartment may find themselves unable to afford it in coming years. It’s become apparent that Florida, much like the rest of the country, is experiencing a sudden spike in rental costs; something that isn’t new to the Sunshine State, a popular vacation spot for snowbird and spring breakers alike. The increase between 2020 and 2021 has hit a historical margin; 20% to 30%, in fact, according to real estate experts.  The spike is due to a slew of old and new factors. While there is no doubt that the pandemic played a hand in this housing crisis, even as efforts are being made to contain coronavirus, there isn’t a straightforward way to approach this issue or to know for how long it’s going to impact students attending community colleges like Valencia College.

According to RentCafe, the average rental price for Orlando is now up at $1700 for a 963 sq. ft. apartment, with other rental websites claiming a $1500 average price tag. This is much higher than the average rent in 2019, which was estimated at the $1200 range.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Conway community (zip code 32812)  saw a price hike in its median rent from $1,249 a month in January of 2021 to a staggering $2,171 for December 2021. That is a $922 increase in twelve months. At this price, many are already struggling to pay rent and afford college. This puts some on the verge of homelessness as they are unable to secure housing, roommates, or family with whom they can live. In worst cases, others may resort to living in their cars if they own one. According to Porch.com, 45% of occupied households in Orlando are renters. The same research shows a reported homeless population of 28,328 Floridians in 2019.

You or someone you know on campus is likely facing the sobering reality of eviction, rent insecurity, or homelessness; some for the very first time in their lives. Even generations of families who have never been exposed to or gone through poverty before are now being thrust into an economic crisis unable to do anything about it. Most students resort to having roommates and working to afford rent during their education if their families can’t help. What was once an optional living arrangement in the past is now a necessity for many to afford a basic living while being a student in Orlando.

One of the many causes of the sudden hike in rent has been a practice called “up to market” pricing. This practice shows landlords increasing rent in retaliation after the pandemic required the government to implement an eviction moratorium on the state. This action prevented landlords from evicting tenants who were unable to pay rent due to the economic impact of COVID-19 on countless Florida citizens. While the eviction moratorium protected tenants from making rent payments, landlords still paying mortgages for the same properties were still on the hook for paying their mortgages to banks. This allowed banks to foreclose the properties as landlords failed to make payments.

In response, some landlords have taken legal action to evict tenants as soon as the eviction protections expired on July 31, 2021. These legal costs will be passed down to new tenants in the form of higher monthly rent and higher deposits to cover the fees and lost wages over the year. Loss of income isn’t the only reason landlords raise rent to match the “market value.” Some did so as a tactic to detract lower-income tenants and attract tenants of higher income who won’t be as affected by a future job loss or leave like most service-industry employees were in 2020’s lockdown. Other landlords simply saw the experience as the final straw and entirely removed themselves from the market.

Another reason to note why rent and mortgages are high right now is due to the ongoing influx of new remote work residents flooding in from other states with a much higher cost of living. Examples of states with high wages but even higher housing costs include California and New York. Now that the pandemic has transformed the workplace, remote work is here to stay in high-paying industries like tech which see the financial benefit of letting their employees work from home. People with higher income than most service workers in Orlando can relocate to states like Florida for the tax benefits and lower living costs compared to their home state and are outbidding the local competition by a landslide.

Local home buyers and renters are offering to pay over the market value or with several months of rent in advance but still can’t beat out the competition – leaving students between a rock and a hard place. This leaves many unable to afford their steadily rising rent and unable to outbid others for affordable housing. Orlando is a service-industry state known for having a large population of young, single professionals who will now be unable to live where they work. Rent may be skyrocketing, but salaries are unable to keep up with the costs. Business owners hoping to provide fair pay to their service workers can’t keep up. Wages failing to cover living costs means that businesses are losing employees who can no longer afford to rent. Instead, they are quitting their job and relocating to other states or cities. This is creating an employee shortage, too.

So what will happen to Orlando if the residents can’t afford rent while they attend college or attempt to start their careers?