Op-ed: An opinion of the housing crisis in Florida from a drowning tenant

‘I need a life raft!’

The natural response to an emergency is to act immediately and stop the damage by any means necessary. If a lifeguard on duty notices a swimmer in distress, they are trained and responsible for acting with urgency to save the life of a stranger. This analogy is no different than when we elect candidates into office to act immediately on behalf of the needs of their constituents.

click to enlarge Jessy Correa wants Orange County voters to have the opportunity to vote on a rent stabilization ordinance. - image via the author
image via the author
Jessy Correa wants Orange County voters to have the opportunity to vote on a rent stabilization ordinance.

I am a survivor of domestic violence and the sole caretaker of my six beautiful children. I will never go back to what I left two years ago, but I am running out of options on where to live. My rent increased by $300 with short notice, while my working wage has remained the same. There are days where I have to contemplate gas for my car or pay a utility bill. I’ve had to become extremely creative in preparing food for the family in order to make it last a couple of days. I need a life raft!

And it's not just me. Orange County residents are overwhelmed with skyrocketing rent. Every other person I know is getting evicted or leaving Florida to find more affordable housing. The Orange County Commission must declare a state of emergency to address the immediate distress of its residents and let Orange County voters decide in November on an inclusive rent stabilization ordinance that caps rent increases at 5% for one year.

This past Thursday, I joined other renters at the Dr. James R. Smith Neighborhood Center to figure out together how struggling renters like me can have the power to decide our own destinies and that our power is all of us — united together.

There is no magic solution to this crisis. Rent stabilization alone won’t solve the complex housing crisis we face. For that, the Mayor and County Commission  will have to work with renters like me to pass a comprehensive Tenants Bill of Rights that includes a publicly searchable landlord registry, creates an office dedicated to Tenant Advocacy, gives renters a right to counsel, ensures language access, as well as changing zoning laws and vastly increasing affordable housing options. Rent stabilization will give us some room to problem-solve numerous crises including: eviction, affordability, profiteering, and the push-out of local homebuyers by wealthy investors.

Landlords are using this moment to price-gouge, causing rent to rise at rates way above the national average, and we are losing our homes because of it. Delay tactics and elected officials doing the dirty work of corporations that have been used to stop people-powered movements in Orange County in the past are not acceptable. This ordinance needs to advance to halt the emergency we face. We are grateful for a lifeguard like Commissioner Emily Bonilla who has worked hard for a long time to address this emergency in a comprehensive way.

But right now, we need more than one lifeguard. We need three more commissioners to jump in and save us by ensuring the Rent Stabilization Ordinance includes every single renter and caps rent increases at 5% for an entire year while we work to implement a comprehensive and thorough Tenants Bill of Rights. We know Commissioner Christine Moore is not with us and never will be — but what about Mayor Jerry Demings or Commissioners Nicole Wilson, Victoria Siplin, Mayra Uribe or Maribel Gomez-Cordero? Will you join us as we fight to keep Orange County our home?

And to the other readers, will you join us too? Join us at the County Commission meeting on Tuesday, July 26, at 9 a.m. and tell the commissioners how your latest rent increase is impacting you. If you can’t come, call them, email them, remind them that renters are drowning and we need help now. It’s time for the residents of Orange County to have lifeguards who care about their safety and well-being in the midst of a global crisis.

A drowning tenant,
Jessy Correa

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