Video produced and edited by Jordan Zakarin and Ian McKenna
Florida is now ranked the most unaffordable place to live in the country. Evictions are soaring. Why? Lawmakers including Gov. Ron DeSantis have taken millions from corporate landlords and developers. Now organizers across Florida are fighting back — and winning. We spoke to renters fighting back against housing costs in Florida. Below is a full transcript of the video.
[News clip]: Another dismal distinction for the Sunshine State: Eight of the most expensive rental markets in the country are right here in Florida.
[News clip]: Florida saw a 29% increase in rent since the beginning of the year. That is the highest in the country.
[News clip]: He believes rental prices will no longer go back to what they were pre-pandemic.
[Public testimony at housing assembly]: My lease and my rent increased by 77%. This may be the last year that I live in Orange County, a place where we’ve created so many memories, because we can no longer afford to live here.
[Narrator]: It’s a basic human right—but the cost of housing is becoming unbearable for communities in Florida facing massive rent increases.
Danny Ramos: My rent went up 50% with no increase in services and no improvements to my apartment or the surrounding area.
May Beck: I have friends who’ve had their rent doubled.
Nadirah Sabir: The rent increase was hard because I was, like, really fighting to maintain what I was paying already. I’ve done things like, even giving plasma just to have some money.
[Danny at housing assembly]: How is somebody who’s working at Wawa or 7-Eleven going to pay a 50% increase in rent? Are you people nuts?
Emily Bonilla: People are becoming homeless. They don’t know where they’re going to live next. They’re getting priced out of their homes.
[Narrator]: State politicians have abandoned working families, leaving them to get price gouged by corporate landlords or forced out by eviction. So in places like Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Orange County, tenants and grassroots activists are rising up and fighting back.
Sheena Rolle: We should care about whether or not anyone is choosing food over housing. Or their doctor’s appointments over housing, right? Or whether or not their kids get new shoes that don’t have holes in them over housing. This is a human dignity issue.
[Narrator]: Rents in Orange County, Florida—home to major tourist destination Orlando—are on average 30% higher than in 2021.
Giovanni Bravo Ruiz: [Our landlord] was raising our rent by 40%. So a thousand more dollars for rent for a house in Thornton Park that has a slight mold issue, with a leaky roof, also out back, with no washer and dryer working.
Frank Torres: The rent increase has strained my finances. Can I afford it? Well, I’m gonna have to find a way to afford it.
David Rucker: It is all about the money. But, you know, people need to live, too. They don’t need to be in the streets.
Giovanni: You can’t just say landlords are bad people. No. We need to put an eye also on [Orange County] Mayor [Jerry] Demings and [Orlando Mayor] Buddy Dyer.
They’re allowing this to happen.
[Narrator]: Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla is leading the fight to pass a one-year rent stabilization ordinance to slow rent increases and protect residents from profiteering, eviction, and displacement.
Emily: The exact proposal for the county is a rent stabilization that will prevent any landlords from increasing the rents more than 5% or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.
May: But what it is, is first aid. And, you know, if somebody comes into the emergency room and they’re bleeding out, you don’t wait for a full diagnosis to give them first aid. You give them first aid and make sure they don’t die.
[Narrator]: But there’s one very big roadblock: Florida’s preemption laws, which limit the power of local governments on key issues, make it extremely difficult to take county and city-level action on rent control. Even this simple, one-year stabilization has to be put on the ballot to be approved by Orange County voters. The real struggle, activists say, is overcoming the political power wielded by developers and corporate landlords.
Emily: These corporations are purchasing here. They have a lot of influence over local and state politicians because they have the money to go ahead and give donations.
[Narrator]: Governor Ron DeSantis has raised millions from the real estate industry, one of his biggest donor groups. Over the past 20 years, the Republican-held legislature has shifted $2.3 billion from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Act Fund, a housing rental assistance program for low-income families, to their other legislative priorities. In April, they raided $100 million from the fund to reward luxury developers. Activists say it’s just another anti-renter move.
Sheena: [What they’re saying is] if you don’t desire to be a homeowner or owner class, right, a real classism issue, you don’t deserve to live indoors. And that is not the kind of county that we deserve to live in.
Alaina Slife: Because people can live comfortably, but we can’t live comfortably when all of our rights are being sold to the highest bidder.
[Narrator]: Orange County activists are hoping to follow in the footsteps of organizers winning housing successes across the Sunshine State. In South Florida, the Miami Workers Center has been organizing to expand housing rights in a city run by developers.
Santra Denis: Many Miamians, they’re paying upwards of 80% of their salary on housing. And it shouldn’t be that.
[Narrator]: In May, activists in Miami secured a tenant bill of rights, approved unanimously by the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners.
Santra: Oh, absolutely. Huge win was the Office of the Tenant Advocacy, now the Housing Advocacy Office that didn’t exist before we demanded it out of the county’s budget last year. And so that is an office that will help streamline where people can call to get resources around housing.
[Narrator]: In Tampa and St. Petersburg, tenant unions have stopped evictions and won new rights and affordable housing funds.
[State Rep. Michelle Rayner]: When the people get together, the folks in power have got to move and they got to move one way or the other. We’ll move them out or they’ll move on our behalf.
[Narrator]: Hoping to ride this wave of successes, residents in Orange County are asking commissioners and Mayor Jerry Demings to back a referendum on rent stabilization and to seek out even more solutions for the housing emergency facing residents.
Giovanni: Letting the voters decide and then having one year of rent control, that’s all we are asking for. It’s nothing crazy. It’s nothing out of this world.
Sheena: So rent stabilization is not a killshot. It is not a magic pill, but it’s part of a medicine that we need. And it is irresponsible to walk away from the thing they absolutely can do because they can’t figure out all of it.
Alaina: When you see what people are stealing from us, you also see the fire that ignites in people that are being stolen from. And there are tons of us. But when you realize that everything is being taken from you, you finally realize that it’s time to shake the boat.
Videography by Bima Mandig