WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – In an effort to tackle the affordable housing shortage, Palm Beach County Commissioners approved a $200 million bond that voters approved in a 2022 referendum to keep residents from relocating or being displaced because they can no longer afford to live in the county.

Meanwhile, in the state Legislature, Palm Beach County State Rep. Jervonte Edmonds has filed a bill designed to limit “predatory” landlords’ rent increases and requiring an extended period prior to eviction for tenants who pay a portion of their rent.

At last week’s County Commission meeting, lawmakers voted to start issuing the bond by portions during the next several years, but put on hold whether to adopt the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County’s plan called Housing for All.

The council’s plan focuses on building 20,000 affordable housing and workforce housing units in the county by 2032.

Commissioners said they need more time to review the plan since three new members on the board were not part of the initial phase of the affordable housing plan.

Palm Beach County Mayor Gregg Weiss told the South Florida Times after the meeting that the county’s goal is to build about 10,000 affordable housing and workforce housing units in 10 years.

“That’s our plan right now,” he said. “But there might be more affordable housing and workforce housing units that are being proposed but he’ll have to wait and see.”

Weiss said affordable and workforce housing programs target county residents living with the median income which is about $68,874 per household.

According to the 2020 Census, Palm Beach County has a population of roughly 1.5 million residents.

Whites constitute 74 percent of the population, 24 percent for Hispanics and Blacks at 20 percent.

About 11.6 percent of residents live at or below the poverty threshold.

With more than 720,741 housing units, the county has a 69.4 percent homeownership rate with an average mortgage of $316,000.

The median monthly rent for an apartment or home in South Florida was $2,511, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors. That’s the seventh highest among U.S. metro areas.

The data covers the metro areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and includes up to two bedrooms.

About 44 percent of Monroe County residents pay 30 percent or more of their income on rent or a mortgage, according to the Federal Reserve, which tracks “cost-burdened” households nationwide.

Despite pouring millions of dollars annually in their budgets to address the affordable housing crisis, three mayors in the tri-county area are requesting assistance from the state.

Weiss, Broward County Mayor Lamar Fisher and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava attended a recent South Florida Regional Planning Council meeting. They plan to ask state lawmakers to finance affordable housing projects to alleviate mass exodus over the past two years.

Levine Cava said one solution is Florida’s documentary stamp tax, which is revenues collected on the transfer of real estate properties to fund the state’s affordable housing program under a trust.

But she said funds have been diverted to pay for key infrastructure programs that lack funding.

She’s hoping the state can put the funding back on its original track to help alleviate the affordable housing crunch.

“As a community, we are investing $85 million for programs for affordable housing this year,” she said. “We also receive federal dollars for the programs and request assistance from the state.”

Palm Beach County residents from younger generations to senior citizens told heart wrenching stories about not being able to afford rent.

Some working class people are living in homeless shelters or in their cars after they were kicked out of apartments after their landlords increased their rent to levels they can no longer afford.

One woman said she and her 7-yearold son shelter in her car and park at night in different areas to sleep.

She said she fears for their safety but that’s the only option since she doesn’t have any relatives who live in Florida.

“You’re living in an apartment and the next thing you’re sleeping in your car with your son,” she said. “This is terrible.”

The Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County conducted a study on housing needs in the county and determined affordable housing is critical especially after the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.

Many residents lost their jobs during the pandemic. Some took work at lower salaries to make ends meet. But rental rates soared to 30 percent in 2022.

“An aggressive post-COVID affordable housing response is required to serve as a stabilizer in the short-term and a more coherent and impactful affordable housing development delivery system in the long-term to help overcome current and persistent levels of distress while better preparing for inevitable future shocks,” the report said. ”

The scope and scale of Palm Beach County’s affordable housing needs in the post-COVID-19 economy will demand a much greater public, private, and philanthropic response.”

Suzanne Cabrera, CEO of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County, said the Housing for All proposal of building 20,000 affordable housing and workforce housing units during the next nine years offers another solution.

“We’re really trying to address the housing affordability crisis and the plan has a lot of components, but a major component is the $200 million bond that will provide gap funding and will get developers cheaper money and, in return, they will have lower rents,” Cabrera said.

Edmonds told the South Florida Times HB 31 would limit landlords from raising rent more than 30 percent unless their expenses, including property taxes, insurance rates and repairs, exceeds 30 percent of the current rate.

Single-family homes and duplexes are exempt from the bill.

The state’s Live Local Act, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law this year, increases the availability of affordable housing and workforce housing opportunities but bans local governments from limiting rent increases.

Edmond’s bill would also limit landlords’ ability to raise the rent in one year.

He said in his district, some of his constituents’ rent was raised three times a year.

Edmonds said his bill also protects renters from being evicted with a short notice after they paid a portion of their rent.

Landlords would have to give tenants 15 additional days before evicting them, instead of the current state law of three days after they are late with the rent.

“If landlords accept a piece of the rent they can still evict you,” he said. “But the bill will give residents a piece of mind and make sure they are not on the streets.”

Edmond said 100 percent of his constituents face rental increases by as much as 30 percent.

“The worst case I’ve seen is people 65 years old living on a fixed income and can’t afford rent whatsoever,” he said. “Some of them lost their spouses and their kids don’t live in the area and they live in the streets.”

Edmond’s bill will also require landlords to provide their tenants with air conditioning.

Broward County Sen. Rosalind Osgood has filed companion SB 64 in the Senate.