Rising Rents Chip Away at Tampa’s Affordability Draw

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Companies say higher wages aren’t attracting enough workers as housing costs climb

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Mr. Hartfield said he has four open positions for direct-care workers and assistant managers on top of an existing staff of 20 at his Serenity Village facilities. Three workers have told him their rents are rising and asked for raises, he said. He can only afford to provide them occasional supplements to pay that averages $13 an hour for direct-care staff, he said, in part because his revenue is limited by reimbursement rates capped by the state.

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“We’re in this awful position of how do we make this work for everyone,” Mr. Hartfield said.

Like other metro areas across the US, Tampa is grappling with labor shortages driven in part by strong employer demand and workers quitting lower-wage jobs, according to economists. Compounding the problem in Florida are some of the biggest rent increases in the US, exacerbated by an influx of new residents during the pandemic. Managers in sectors including healthcare, hospitality, education and construction say they are trying to fill many open jobs and hold on to existing workers through pay increases and other perks.

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“People can’t afford to live in Tampa Bay,” said Jennifer Motsinger, executive vice president at the Tampa Bay Builders Association, whose members are dealing with labor shortages. “If you can’t afford to live, you can’t afford to work in Tampa Bay.”

Rents in the Tampa metro area increased 25% in May, compared with a year earlier, the fourth-highest jump among more than 100 large metro areas tracked by a reporting project at Florida Atlantic University and other academic institutions. The average monthly rent in the Tampa metro area reached $2,089.

Tampa had the fastest home-price growth in the US in the year that ended in April, at 35.8%, according to the S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Pam Ruenger said she moved to the Tampa area with her daughter six years ago from Rockford, Ill., to take a job as a middle-school science teacher, and she loved it. But in April, she said, the property manager at her apartment building notified her that her lease wouldn’t be renewed. Management planned to renovate units and raise her rent to $1,800 a month from $1,350, she said.

Ms. Ruenger said she looked for a month for another place to rent, or possibly buy, but found nothing she could afford with her $50,000 base salary. She concluded she had no choice but to move back to Rockford, where her teacher salary is higher and the rents are lower.

“It was so hard to look at my little sixth graders and have to tell them I’m leaving,” said Ms. Ruenger, 53 years old. “That was heartbreaking.”

Hillsborough County Public Schools, which include Tampa, are confronting a teacher shortage—part of a national problem as educators burn out over pandemic policies, political battles and more. Teachers and other staff are citing rent increases as another factor pushing them to reconsider the profession, said Superintendent Addison Davis.

“It is putting major stresses on potential candidates and individuals who are already in the profession,” he said. Some are working second jobs to make rent payments, he said.

As of June, Mr. Davis said, the district had 770 instructional and 556 noninstructional vacancies—historic highs. More than 1,800 teachers retired or resigned over the past year, in a district with about 14,000 teachers, he said.

Tampa was long considered a bargain city for renters and home buyers. The price increases, however, have eroded some of a competitive advantage that helped recruit managers from elsewhere in the US, said Ron McAnaugh, area general manager at JW Marriott Tampa Water Street and Tampa Marriott Water Street. As a result, candidates have higher salary expectations, he said.

Wages at his properties have risen nearly 30% since 2019, a faster pace than he said he has ever experienced. The increase has been even greater for hourly workers in hard-to-fill housekeeping and culinary positions.

At Mr. Hartfield’s Serenity Village, Courtney Bell, 32, said she was weighing whether she can remain in the management job she has enjoyed for the past five years. She said her landlord told her in October that the monthly rent for a three-bedroom house in Clearwater where she lives with her daughter and her brother’s family was increasing to nearly $2,800 from about $1,600.

They decided to stay because of a lack of cheaper alternatives. Now she is looking into insurance or real estate work—ideally with a shorter commute to save on gas—as an alternative that could raise her income.

“I do my best to stay loyal,” said Ms. Bell, who makes about $20 an hour. “But things are a lot different now.”

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Credit: www.Businesshala.com /

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