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Housing in Miami keeps rising and wages can’t keep up. Now, more people feel the squeeze

Rising housing costs burden half of all homeowners and renters in Miami-Dade County. And the situation is getting worse.

Half of all of the county’s 936,351 households spent more than 30% of their income on paying for their mortgage or rent between 2019 and 2021, based on the new 2023 Housing Needs Assessment report by the University of Florida and Miami Homes for All. Real estate experts recommend that renters and homeowners spend 30% or below on their housing.

The biggest burden falls on renters. Over half of renters in the county earn below $50,000 a year, compared to just one-third of owners. As a result, renters are more likely to be cost-burdened.

While the percentage of cost-burdened households have held steady the past year, experts expect the numbers to rise as housing and other costs increase and salaries don’t.

The report’s authors Anne Ray, manager of the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse at the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, and Annie Lord, executive director of the nonprofit Miami Homes for All, based their research and findings on data from the Census’ American Community Survey. Lord presented the findings from her report on Wednesday at a Miami-Dade Housing and Health Summit.

“When families are spending too much on housing they don’t have enough left over for basic needs,” Ray said. “Housing costs have to be paid in full every month — that means those other needs suffer.”

Over the next few months, Lord and Ray plan to share their findings with local policymakers and state leaders in Tallahassee. Most financial assistance programs, Lord said, should be steered to helping households earning below $75,000 because they are hit hardest by the rising cost of housing.

‘It’s only getting worse’

The findings are nothing new to housing expert Ned Murray, associate director of the Jorge M. Pérez Metropolitan Center at Florida International University.

Miami-Dade has a shortage of housing priced within reach for South Florida workers. Even before the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020, people were priced out of paradise by foreign buyers and investors. Would-be buyers would lose to cash offers or bids well above the listing price, and renters faced steep competition.

Thousands quit looking or moved elsewhere. Data from U.S. Census Bureau reported Miami-Dade had a population loss of 28,000 residents from 2020 to 2022, the biggest decline for any county in the state.

How it’s affecting people who live in Miami-Dade

More people like Charles Curry — a retiree, renter and member leader of nonprofit Miami Workers Center — think about leaving.

Seven years ago, the 71-year-old Curry retired from a career as an electrician on construction sites. He could keep himself afloat with his work, but now struggles on a fixed income. He said he tolerates a one-bedroom, roach and rat-infested apartment in Liberty City because that’s all he can afford.

“At least it’s a roof over my head, but it’s tough to live in conditions like this,” Curry said. “I can’t count the number of times I have moved. I am always trying to move and find something better.”

Although he prefers to stay, Curry said he’s thought about moving out of state to somewhere cheaper, perhaps in North Carolina or Texas.

It’s only a matter of time before more people like Curry face the tough decision to stay or go, Murray said. “You’re saying 50% of all households are cost burdened. It’s much much higher than that. It’s only getting worse.”

Some natives and long-time residents say the decision to stay or go is unthinkable. Miami-Dade is home.

That’s the case for 61-year-old Maria Sanchez who moved years ago from Cuba. Still, Sanchez, a food plater at Sky Chefs at Miami International Airport, struggles financially since her wages fail to keep up with the rising cost of living and housing.

Sanchez said she and her colleagues feel the pressure of keeping up with rent, and fight for higher wages as part of the Unite Here union. Her 74-year-old retired husband, Sanchez, and their 11-year-old grandson live in a two-bedroom apartment near West Flagler Street and pay $2,700 a month in rent, up from $1,800 a month last year. His $960 a month retirement and her $16 an hour pay can barely keep up, she said.

“This has me feeling sick,” Sanchez said. “We always wanted to buy a small house or apartment when my husband retired, something for us. That money, despite all of the work it took to save, we’ve had to use to pay rent.”

It was a nest egg the couple had built over the past decade.

“I have a lot of anxiety, a lot of problems. Now, in two months, we won’t have any money left,” Sanchez said. “Believe me we’ve looked to move, to change and we couldn’t find anything because wherever you look rents are at $2,500, $2,400, all the same.”

What are the solutions?

The rising cost of housing and living has kept some executives away, too, said Rod Miller, president and CEO of Miami-Dade’s economic development organization the Beacon Council.

His team promotes and encourages executives outside of South Florida to expand their companies into the region. In recent months, Miller said some employers decided against opening a new office, bringing employees and expanding their teams with local talent because they fear their workers would struggle.

Developers and policymakers can improve conditions in two ways, said Ray, co-author of the housing report: construction of more affordable housing and preservation of housing with rent caps.

The only problem? Construction can take years.

In the meantime, Miller said, other remedies can ease financial tensions. Social services like childcare, down-payment assistance and interest reduction on mortgages can help reduce financial strains.

While the study’s findings concern Miller, he feels encouraged by leaders from across the private and public sectors rallying together to work on solutions.

“Most places start addressing this problem when they are 10 years in, 15 years in. The level of coming together — the level of commitment to addressing this is unparalleled,” Miller said. “The challenges are real, but the commitment ... solutions is strong.”