TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The 2022 Florida State Legislative Session kicked off Tuesday with a rousing speech by Gov. Ron DeSantis that set the tone for the next 60 days – and omitted one of the most pressing issues citizens face.
“While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard,” he began.
Over the course of more than 2,600 words, DeSantis covered a wide range of issues as he sought to lock in conservative voters and media attention. Topics like parental rights, election integrity, immigration, social media censorship and supporting law enforcement were all laid out as priorities in the reelection year.
The soaring cost of rent, housing and property taxes in the state’s cities wasn’t given one word, even though citizens of the “freedom state” increasingly find themselves unable to afford a neighborhood that checks off even half the boxes on their wish lists.
In 2021, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Orlando increased by 38%, ApartmentGuide research found. The Orlando Regional Realtors Association reported housing prices increased less, but a still-staggering 20%.
The trend also occurred in the Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami metro areas, and analysts expect it to continue in 2022.
UCF Politics Professor Aubrey Jewett said the governor’s agenda for the upcoming year would largely become the state’s agenda, as leader of the Republican party. He said legislative leaders were expected to defer to his priorities even more than usual because of his upcoming election.
While lawmakers will have time for other items, not being on the list was a bad omen.
“I don’t have my hopes up too high,” he said. “On the other hand… in some areas of the state [we are] reaching a crisis when it comes to affordable housing, both for cost of buying and renting. I certainly know a lot of Democrats have that on their priority, but I think some Republicans do as well.”
The increased focus on housing costs has made waves in Democratic circles, though the party has no control over the legislative agenda. Their calls in December for emergency action to alleviate the burden being felt have made little progress.
“He wants to paint a picture in Florida where everything is perfect. We’re the land of the free and no one is struggling,” Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said. “All it takes is just five minutes in my district to see folks living in hotels and motels because it can afford a place to live.”
On Monday, Eyewitness News emailed Gov. DeSantis’ staff to ask where his thoughts were on this topic. His spokeswoman replied, pointing out that DeSantis had vetoed lawmakers’ annual attempt to divert money away from affordable housing for pet priorities last year. She also provided funding figures for those housing programs in the current budget proposal.
However, she attributed the rise of rent and home prices to inflation, which is a favorite of the governor’s attacks on President Biden, but not the source of the problem.
Instead, the increases are caused by the thousands of people moving to Florida’s cities every week, often willing to pay more than locals because of the lack of available places to live.
Eskamani said her Republican colleagues sounded open to some actions, including erasing eviction records tied to the pandemic and revamping the state’s zoning laws to encourage infill in cities and suburbs. She said other proposals would bring heavier regulation to landlords that don’t keep their properties in good condition.
Still, it was low on many lists.
“Republican colleagues and even some Democratic colleagues are just, you know, more concerned about corporate donors,” she claimed.
For his part, Jewett suggested lawmakers could be more incentivized to act if their constituents made them aware it was an issue that needed to be addressed.
“Democrats might be able to make enough noise and persuasively get constituents to contact their legislators that maybe something will be done on this,” he said.
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