COVID-19

Floridians struggle to find good housing amid affordability crisis, pandemic

Danielle Prieur Nov 26, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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