“We Can’t Afford Florida” shouted renters at a news conference in the state Capitol

Housing advocates and lawmakers push for affordable rent for Floridians, and other measures. Photo credit by Danielle J. Brown.

Frustrated renters spoke out Wednesday at a Florida Housing Justice Alliance press conference in the state Capitol.

Trenise Bryant, housing organizer of Miami Workers Center and leader of the press conference, brought attention to statewide housing dilemmas and urged more lawmakers to prioritize accessible housing options for Floridians.

A varied group of supporters rallied behind Bryant in a unifying chant.

“We can’t…,” Bryant started.

“…Afford Florida!” they finished, echoing the posters and banners dispersed throughout the crowd.

Several Florida lawmakers spoke at the press conference to introduce a thorough and comprehensive legislative agenda to promote affordable housing and renter protections across the state.

Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat representing part of Orange County, is sponsoring HB 1449. This bill would provide protections for renters through rental agreements and granting tenants prior notification changes to rental agreements.

“House Bill 1449 was written hand-in-hand with directly impacted people from our community,” Smith said. He added that the bill was worked on by Puerto Rico climate evacuees, residents from historically marginalized communities, and manufactured-home owners.

“This legislation was not written by corporations,” Smith said.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County, is sponsoring Senate Bill 480 to providing protections from evictions during a state of emergency.

“It’s very simple,” said Senator Pizzo. “When a state of emergency is declared by the federal government or the state of Florida, I don’t think we should be processing evictions in court. I think we should be worrying about our families and our safety and our welfare.”

Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, is pushing Senate Bill 274, which provides protections for victims and minors of domestic violence or attempted domestic violence. A landlord may not terminate a residential rental agreement or evict a tenant for an incident involving actual or threatened domestic violence, according to the legislation.

Speakers also referred to housing affordability in Florida.

Puerto Rican immigrant Javier Figueroa, shared his experience of trying to find housing in Florida, particularly because of his status as a person with disabilities.

Through the help of his translator, Krystellys Estanga, he said he struggled with the requirement of a potential renter’s income to be three times that of the rent.

As a person with disabilities, he described that requirement as “casi imposible”—near impossible.

Margie Mathers, a resident in a corporate-owned manufactured home, shared the struggles of members living in these communities, trying to meet rent prices.

“People in our community are taking their medicine every other day so they can pay their rent,” said Mathers. “They are buying food that is not healthy so they can pay their rent.”

“We need help. We need protection from the corporate landowners,” Mathers said.

Trenise Bryant of Miami Workers Center called manufactured homes one of the last options for affordable housing.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat representing part of Orange County, reiterated the widespread issue for Floridians struggling to find affordable housing.

“This is one of those issues that bring together folks from Fort Myers to downtown Orlando to Miami Beach, all the way up to the Panhandle,” said Eskamani.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.