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Floridians struggle to find good housing amid affordability crisis, pandemic
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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.
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