ORLANDO, Fla. - In response to the steep increase in rent and the housing crisis, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners is considering the idea of an ordinance that would limit rent increases and, if that happens, put it on the ballot for a vote.
Natalie Armstrong-Moorehead works at a local hospital. Her rent increased by more than $200 a month and like many others, she is struggling to make ends meet and keep a roof over her head.
"There is no reason why I can't afford a home," she told commissioners during a Tuesday hearing.
"These are, and I will be very clear, families," said someone else. "Sometimes a mother, a father, a child, a dog, a pet, and they are homeless living in the woods."
These stories are not unusual to the commissioners, who've heard variations of people dealing with rent increases. In some cases, some people have said their rent increased $500 a month.
"Year-over-year apartment rent increases in Orange County alone are nearing 30% for the last five months," said Commissioner Emily Bonilla, who represents District 5.
She described the situation as a "housing emergency" to the board and believed the commission should implement a rent increase cap at 5%. Other commissioners agreed that something needs to be done.
Exactly what and how is still being determined.
"A one-bedroom (apartment) cost more than my mortgage," said District 3 Commissioner Mayra Uribe. "I couldn’t live there as a commissioner. I wouldn’t be able to afford a one-bedroom with my four-member family."
Local governments have few options to help when it comes to rent increases.
A 1977 state law prohibits them from enacting any kind of rent control for housing that charges more than $1,200 a month by today's standards. Back then, lawmakers considered properties that charged $1,200 to be luxurious – and could charge those rates without oversight.
"Unfortunately, this language around luxury apartments is still in statute so hypothetically, if Orange County were to do this, I would assume that there would be organizations that would try to sue them," said District 47 representative Anna Eskamani.
Eskamani and others tried to propose bills to limit rent increases at the state level, but none were ever heard, they said.
"I do think the statue is outdated and no one has ever tried to challenge that language," Eskamani said.
Moving forward, the commissioners committed to taking a deep look at the issue and hope to draft an ordinance to be heard at a future meeting. They targeted the June 7 meeting. It could then be put on the ballot for November's election.
Orange County will be taking a deeper look into the issue and hope to draft an ordinance for a public hearing on June 7th. If one passes, then it will be put onto the ballot for a vote decided by the people in November.