Florida’s economy is booming, influencers say it’s time to disrupt it

According to environment panel member and eMerge Americas President Melissa Medina, tech-related startups racked in $1.4 billion in startup funding during the first half of 2019 in Miami alone.

By Gerard Albert III

PantherNOW / Florida International University

Florida’s economy continues to grow, and so does its population.

At the Florida Priorities Summit, produced by the Miami Herald and hosted by the University of Miami, experts weighed in on how they think the state’s economy needs to adjust. Some influencers think the next step in Florida’s economy is technology, not tourism. 

Melissa Medina, president of eMerge Americas, says the state government needs to change for the future. 

“Our government needs to look at a long-term strategy to pivot a bit from just focusing on tourism, agriculture and real estate,” she said.

Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, agrees. He says Orlando’s growth isn’t coming from tourism like it has in the past. A record 126.1 million out-of-state visitors came to Florida in 2018. The tourism industry brought in $86 billion in 2017, much of that thanks to Orlando’s theme parks.

“Orlando had 130 million tourists this year, their growth is occurring outside tourism, it’s more in tech and aerospace,” Vitner said.

Richard Florida is a researcher at the Florida International University Creative City Initiative. He acknowledged the need for different jobs to revitalize the mostly-service driven economy where over a third of renters in Miami are cost-burdened.

“I think the problem in Florida, and in particularly for Miami, when it comes to housing, it’s not housing for tech workers — it’s housing for poor people,” he said. Miami is the worst large metropolitan area in the country, according to an FIU Metropolitan Center study.

Housing was another issue addressed at the summit. Experts called on state legislation to amend bills and incentivize developers to build more affordable housing units.

Experts: Fixing Florida’s affordable-housing crisis involves fixing legislation

Annie Lord, director of Miami Homes for All, on Monday at the Florida Priorities Summit at University of Miami. Photo by Gerard Albert III

By Gerard Albert III

PantherNOW / Florida International University

More and more people are coming to Florida and the state is facing a problem: where to put them.

Activists and policy makers met at the University of Miami this week for the second-annual Florida Priorities Summit produced by the Miami Herald. They came up with solutions to some of the biggest issues facing the state, including the lack of affordable housing.  

The state is ranked first in renters who are severely cost burdened. Eighty percent spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent,  according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

“When you look at where the critical need is, it happens to be in rental housing,” said Annie Lord, director of Miami Homes for All.

Miami is a renter-majority market. More than a third of renters spend more than 30 percent of their paychecks on rent, according to a recent study by the Florida International University Metropolitan Center.

The study also found that while the amount of people renting in Miami went up by 33 percent, the amount of homeowners decreased 17 percent, leaving the percentage of people who owned homes at 30 percent — half of the national average.

The issue is two-fold: People aren’t buying houses anymore and renting is becoming too expensive. Millennials in particular are buying fewer homes following a national decline in home-ownership. Also contributing to the decline in housing is young people living with their parents.

And while developers continue to build throughout South and Central Florida, almost none of new housing units are considered affordable.

Faced with a multi-faceted problem, the summit group, consisting of influential lawyers and activists, came up with several legislative suggestions.

These included utilizing the William F. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act fund — a trust administered by the state intended to grow affordable housing. Instead, millions of dollars get moved to the state’s general fund by legislators.

“Since around 2003, the funds have been routinely raided by Tallahassee lawmakers for other uses like hurricane recovery and general funding,” the group report said.

In 2017, Miami Herald reporter Mary Ellen Klas reported that the amount  swept from the Sadowski fund added up to $1.3 billion. 

Earlier this year Florida legislators filed a bill to try and return some of the almost $2 billion taken from the fund. Miami Rep. Kionne McGhee filed bill in the state House requiring other state agencies justify why or how they deserved money transferred from the housing fund. If the agencies failed to show intended purpose, they would be forced to repay it within five years.

The bill died in May, but showed some legislators are trying to add accountability to the budget.

The group also recommended subsidies for workforce housing, incentives for developers to build more affordable housing or using public land to sell or lease to developers who commit to building it.

Another obstacle is a bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law this summer, which prevents local governments from requiring developers include affordable housing in their projects unless they receive compensation from the government.

The group thinks the bill needs to be amended.

“Strike language requiring affordability incentives to ‘fully offset’ the cost of affordability,” their report said.

Fueling the housing problem is the job market. Service and hospitality jobs are among the most popular in the state. Most of these workers rent and are cost-burdened. Miami’s low starting salaries and high rent costs also contribute to the problem for working-class families.

“But our teachers, nurses or other healthcare professionals, firefighters, police officers, government workers … either there isn’t sufficient housing for them, or there isn’t sufficient housing for them that they can afford,” Lord said.

Miami ranks first in housing costs for people of moderate incomes. Orlando, which has more land to develop than South Florida, was tied with Las Vegas as the city with the greatest shortage of rentals for low-income tenants, according to a 2016 National Low Income Housing Coalition report. 

“If those businesses are getting starved of their workforce then that’s a problem,” said Dave Wilson, senior editor at the Miami Herald.