Orange County politicians want voters to decide to limit rent hikes

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — REFaced with skyrocketing rent increases that are pricing working-class families and younger workers out of their apartments, Orange County politicians will try to reign in the market next year through a ballot referendum in November.

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Commissioner Emily Bonilla and several state representatives will unveil their plan Friday morning at the county administration building. Their initiative will call for a maximum 5% increase cap for one year for landlords who own four or more units.

Through 2021, the average monthly rent spiked 30% — almost 10 times a typical yearly increase. Many renters now spend more than a third of their incomes on housing, putting a strain on other bills and making it almost impossible to save for a home.

Read the commissioner’s report below:

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“I understand the residents of Orange County are facing tremendous financial hardships,” Bonilla said in a statement. “I am committed to doing everything I can to help bring you some kind of relief.”

Rent control has been tried and tested in other parts of the United States, like California, but not in Florida. State law prohibits rent control except in places where there’s a “housing emergency.” Bonilla is building a case to declare such an emergency, publishing dozens of pages of reports and data explaining how the rising costs are driving workers away from the metro area.

“A full-time [retail] employee would have to work over 145 hours or 18 days to cover the average rent, consuming 84% of their wages,” one report said.

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Many tenants support the idea, saying housing costs are a major source of stress for their families.

“The prices are going further and further up, we are going to have to start moving out,” Lori Ellis, a downtown resident, said.

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Opponents call it a capitalism crusher that will keep the market artificially low and hurt landlords. They also point to other times rent control has been proposed and defeated in the Sunshine State.

Commissioners have until the end of April to propose and pass referendums. Bonilla and supporters are calling on renters to come to the April 5 commission meeting to testify about their housing situations in an effort to drum up enough votes to get the initiative on the ballot.

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