COVID-19

Floridians struggle to find good housing amid affordability crisis, pandemic

Danielle Prieur Nov 26, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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A woman looks on as the head of the Kissimmee-Poinciana Homeless Outreach, Barbie Austria, donates essentials to jobless people living in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida on Oct. 15, 2020. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Floridians struggle to find good housing amid affordability crisis, pandemic

Danielle Prieur Nov 26, 2020
A woman looks on as the head of the Kissimmee-Poinciana Homeless Outreach, Barbie Austria, donates essentials to jobless people living in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida on Oct. 15, 2020. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
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On any given night, about 28,000 people are homeless in Florida, according to the most recent count.

In Osceola County, the best option available for shelter is to live in a motel that has had no electricity or running water at times in recent months, during the pandemic.

Mike Beaver is a resident of the Star Motel in Kissimmee. He works nearby at Walt Disney World Resort. He said the motel’s power has been turned off five times, the water twice this year. Still, he’s not planning on moving.

“I am not in harm’s way. I am fine. And I’m staying here,” Beaver said.

The cost of a room is $800 a month. The motel’s manager, Sarah Russo, says she wants the utilities turned on, but most residents aren’t paying their rent.

“We have not been receiving rent since the beginning of COVID,” Russo said. “We have two people that have been paying rent. One of them has currently moved. The other is still here.”

Many residents don’t have anywhere else to go because there are no homeless shelters and there is no transitional housing in Osceola County.

Osceola County officials say they have marked the Star Motel property as “unsafe.” The county has started building a fence around the motel and boarding up vacant rooms.

But officials say it isn’t being condemned and residents won’t be forced out. 

County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb said the county has relocated 40 families to another motel with utilities and would like to turn one of those properties into transitional housing.

“Hotels are not designed to have a stove,” Grieb said. “To have all this computer equipment for the kids having to work remotely. Certainly not hot pads and things like that.”

Grieb said the state won’t let the county use more than $65 million it received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to refurbish a motel.  

So the county voted to spend all of its CARES Act funds on public safety. That is allowed according to Florida U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat, who represents the district.  

“The amount of increased overtime and personnel needed, whether it’s cops or firefighters, whether it’s EMTs, is a lot. So CARES Act funding is primarily for use for issues like that,” Soto said.

This has freed up money in the county budget, and the county commission is now looking at spending that money on affordable housing, to help those who have few options for shelter at the moment.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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