Spring Break in Florida is a busy time, an annual opportunity for a huge economic boost. Millions of visitors are expected to visit this season alone.
State data shows more people are visiting Florida now than before the pandemic. But, while our hotels, restaurants and other hospitality/tourism destinations in Orlando (and across the state) are expecting this influx of visitors, many are also reportedly operating with less than 50% of their pre-COVID-19 staffing levels.
Addressing this staffing shortage has been an ongoing problem and various short-term and long-term solutions continue to be explored. Industry after industry share in the hardships directly tied to their own labor shortages and there is one common issue that remains the culprit: the cost of housing.
In order to take immediate steps to attract new workers to Florida’s hospitality and tourism industries, we will need to consider their cost of housing. We need new workers to move here. But is there any place for these new workers to live that they can actually afford?
Business owners are coping with the shortage as best they can. From warning customers about reduced services, to hotels and restaurants that have had to reduce occupancy levels — significantly affecting their bottom lines. Some hotels opt to raise prices. Hotels and restaurants are trying to hire more workers, but they are facing significant challenges in recruiting. In addition to reworking their operating budgets to account for higher wages and other financial incentives, some business owners are opting to bring in new workers, albeit temporarily, from around the country and the world.
What if any of these new or temporary workers were interested in relocating to stay in Central Florida? The affordable housing crisis is proving to make that idea virtually unattainable and simply put: unaffordable. The median price to buy a home rose 25% in the last year and the average rent increased close to 30%!
It is readily apparent that we are not going to solve the housing crisis in one broad stroke. We will need to take many smaller steps along this journey in efforts to realize a sustainable solution. And it will take leaders across all levels of government to work together to expand the toolbox of resources and programs that ultimately make Florida housing more affordable.
The Florida Legislature just passed the “Hometown Heroes” bill aimed to make things just a little easier for police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses and select other Floridians to own a home or secure safe, quality, affordable housing. That’s a great move by the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The city of Orlando just launched a pilot program that incentivizes developers to include affordable housing options in their developments, amid rising housing prices and rents. The project is funded from excess revenue pouring in from the frenzy of construction taking shape across the city.
Thanks to technology and financial innovators and pressure from the exasperated housing crisis, modern ideas for solutions are being rapidly born. One such innovator is a company called Rhino that is helping to reimagine and modernize the way traditional security deposits work.
Consider how security deposits for rentals often equate to sometimes insurmountable upfront costs for renters; putting down one or more months of rent as a security deposit (In addition to the first month’s rent) is a huge barrier for many hospitality and tourism industry workers as well as a huge barrier for communities of color.
Rhino offers security deposit insurance for renters in lieu of simply paying a traditional security deposit. This insurance can be as affordable as $5 per month for an apartment that rents for $1,000, as an example. Many landlords are already offering Rhino’s option to their renters. If more landlords follow suit and if more tenants are aware that this option exists and ask for it — we could keep millions upon millions of dollars in the hands of those who need it most, as opposed to being locked up in security deposits.
The affordable housing crisis is one that cuts across all regions, all industries, and affects each and every one of us. In Florida in particular, we need to make a conscious effort to address housing affordability for hospitality and tourism workers with haste before the cost of inaction damages our state’s economic recovery and long-term viability.
Dominique Greco is the founder and executive director of the Orlando Hospitality Alliance dedicated to improving the entrepreneur experience for Central Florida’s local & social business leaders. Serving as Orlando’s first-ever nighttime economy manager, Greco was instrumental in developing balanced solutions that addressed the unique needs of our hospitality community. An entrepreneur, activist and trailblazer at heart, she passionately advocates for growth, modernization and equity across the industry.