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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Why It's So Hard to End Homelessness in the U.S.

  By Alvin Powell

Experts said the problem's complexity, rooted in poverty and a lack of affordable housing but including medical, psychiatric and substance-use issues, makes solving homelessness challenging.

BOSTON – It took seven years for Abigail Judge to see what success looked like for one Boston homeless woman.

The woman had been sex trafficked since she was young, was a drug user and had been abused, neglected or exploited in just about every relationship she'd had. If Judge was going to help her, trust had to come first. Everything else – recovery, healing, employment, rejoining society's mainstream – might be impossible without it. That meant patience despite the daily urgency of the woman's situation.

“It’s nonlinear. She gets better, stops, gets re-engaged with the trafficker and pulled back into the lifestyle. She does time because she was literally holding the bag of fentanyl for these guys,” said Judge, a psychology instructor at Harvard Medical School whose outreach program, Boston Human Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (HEAT), is supported by Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Police Department. “This is someone who’d been initially trafficked as a kid and when I met her was 23 or 24. She turned 30 last year, and now she’s housed, she’s abstinent, she’s on suboxone. And she's super involved in her community.”

It's a success story, but one that illustrates some of the difficulties of finding solutions to the nation's homeless problem. And it's not a small problem. A December 2023 report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said 653,104 Americans experienced homelessness, tallied on a single night in January last year. That figure was the highest since HUD began reporting on the issue to Congress in 2007.

Scholars, healthcare workers and homeless advocates agree that two major contributing factors are poverty and a lack of affordable housing, both stubbornly intractable societal challenges. But they add that hard-to-treat psychiatric issues and substance-use disorders also often underlie chronic homelessness. All of which explains why those who work with the unhoused refer to what they do as “the long game,” “the long walk” or “the five-year-plan” as they seek to address the traumas underlying life on the street.

“As a society, we're looking for a quick fix, but there's no quick fix for this,: said Stephen Wood, a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics and a nurse practitioner in the emergency room at Carney Hospital in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. “It takes a lot of time to fix this. There will be relapses; there'll be problems. It requires an interdisciplinary effort for success.”

Katherine Koh, an assistant professor of psychiatry at HMS and psychiatrist at MGH on the street team for Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, traced the rise of homelessness in recent decades to a combination of factors, including funding cuts for community-based care, affordable housing and social services in the 1980s as well as deinstitutionalization of mental hospitals.

“Though we have grown anesthetized to seeing people living on the street in the U.S., homelessness is not inevitable,” said Koh, who sees patients where they feel most comfortable – on the street, in church basements, public libraries. “For most of U.S. history, it has not been nearly as visible as it is now. There are a number of countries with more robust social services but similar prevalence of mental illness, for example, where homelessness rates are significantly lower. We do not have to accept current rates of homelessness as the way it has to be.”

Success stories exist and illustrate that strong leadership, multidisciplinary collaboration, and adequate resources can significantly reduce the problem. Prevention, meanwhile, in the form of interventions focused on transition periods like military discharge, aging out of foster care and release from prison, has the potential to vastly reduce the numbers of the newly homeless.

Recognition is also growing at Harvard and elsewhere that homelessness is not merely a byproduct of other issues, like drug use or high housing costs, but is itself one of the most difficult problems facing the nation's cities. Experts say that means interventions have to be multidisciplinary yet focused on the problem; funding for research has to rise; and education of the next generation of leaders on the issue must improve.

“This is an extremely complex problem that is really the physical and most visible embodiment of a lot of the public health challenges that have been happening in this country,” said Carmel Shachar, faculty director of Harvard Law School's Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. “The public health infrastructure has always been the poor Cinderella, compared to the healthcare system, in terms of funding. We need increased investment in public health services, in the public health workforce, such that, for people who are unhoused, are unsheltered, who are struggling with substance use, we have a meaningful answer for them.”

Experts say that the nation’s unhoused population not only experiences poverty and exposure to the elements, but also suffers from a lack of basic health care, and so tend to get hit earlier and harder than the general population by various ills from the flu to opioid dependency to COVID-19.

A recent study of 60,000 homeless people in Boston recorded 7,130 deaths over the 14-year study period. The average age of death was 53.7, decades earlier than the nation's 2017 life expectancy of 78.8 years. The leading cause of death was drug overdose, which increased 9.35 percent annually, reflecting the track of the nation's opioid epidemic, though rising more quickly than in the general population.

A closer look at the data shows that impacts vary depending on age, sex, race and ethnicity. All-cause mortality was highest among white men, age 65 to 79, while suicide was a particular problem among the young. HIV infection and homicide, meanwhile, disproportionately affected Black and Latinx individuals. Together, those results highlight the importance of tailoring interventions to background and circumstances, according to Danielle Fine, instructor in medicine at HMS and MGH and an author of two analyses of the study's data.

“The takeaway is that the mortality gap between the homeless population and the general population is widening over time,” Fine said. “And this is likely driven in part by a disproportionate number of drug-related overdose deaths in the homeless population compared to the general population.”

Inadequate supplies of housing

Though homelessness has roots in poverty and a lack of affordable housing, it also can be traced to early life issues, Koh said. The journey to the streets often starts in childhood, when neglect and abuse leave their marks, interfering with education, acquisition of work skills and the ability to maintain healthy relationships.

Most advocates embrace a “housing first” approach, prioritizing it as a first step to obtaining other vital services. But they say the type of housing also matters. Temporary shelters are a key part of the response, but many of the unhoused avoid them because of fears of theft, assault and sexual assault. Instead, long-term beds, including those designated for people struggling with substance use and mental health issues, are needed.

“You can either be admitted to a hospital with a substance-use disorder, or you can be admitted with a psychiatric disorder, but very, very rarely will you be admitted to what's called a dual-diagnosis bed,” said Petrie-Flom's Wood. “The data is pretty solid on this issue: If you have a substance-use disorder there's likely some underlying, severe trauma. Yet, when we go to treat them, we address one but not the other. You're never going to find success in the system that we currently have if you don't recognize that dual diagnosis.”

Services offered to those in housing should avoid what Koh describes as a “one-size-fits-none” approach. Some might need monthly visits from a caseworker to ensure they're getting the support they need, she said. But others struggle once off the streets. They need weekly even daily support from counselors, caseworkers and other service providers.

“I have seen, sadly, people who get housed and move very quickly back out on the streets or, even more tragically, lose their life from an unwitnessed overdose in housing,” Koh said. “There's a community that's formed on the street so if you overdose, somebody can give you Narcan or call 911. If you don’t have the safety of peers around, people can die. We had a patient who literally died just a few days after being housed, from an overdose. We really cannot just house people and expect their problems to be solved. We need to continue to provide the best care we can to help people succeed once in housing.”

The nation's failure to address the causes of homelessness has led to the rise of informal encampments from Portland, Maine, to the large cities of the West Coast. In Boston, an informal settlement of tents and tarps near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard was a point of controversy before it was cleared in November.

In the aftermath, more than 100 former “Mass and Cass” residents have been moved into housing, according to media reports. But experts were cautious in their assessment of the city’s plans. They gave positive marks for features such as a guaranteed place to sleep, “low threshold” shelters that don't require sobriety and increased outreach to connect people with services. But they also said it's clear that unintended consequences have arisen, and the city's homelessness problem is far from solved.

Examples abound. Judge, who leads Boston HEAT in collaboration with Sandra Andrade of MGH, said that a woman she’d been working with for two years, who had been making positive strides despite fragile health, ongoing sexual exploitation and severe substance use disorder, disappeared after Mass and Cass was cleared.

Mike Jellison, a peer counselor who works on Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program's street team, said dismantling the encampment dispersed people around the city and set his team scrambling to find and reconnect people who had been receiving medical care with providers. It’s also clear, he said, that Boston Police are taking a hard line to prevent new encampments from popping up in other neighborhoods, quickly clearing tents and other structures.

“We were out there Wednesday morning on our usual route in Charlesgate,” Jellison said in early December. “And there was a really young couple who had all their stuff packed. And [the police] just told them, ‘You've got to leave, you can’t stay here.’ She was crying, ‘Where am I going to go?’ This was a couple who works; they're employed and work out of a tent. It was like 20 degrees out there. It was heartbreaking.”

Prevention as cure?

Successes in reducing homelessness in the U.S. are scarce, but not unknown. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, has reduced veteran homelessness nationally by more than 50 percent since 2010.

The city of Houston is another example. In 2011, Houston had the nation's fifth-largest homeless population. Then-Mayor Annise Parker began a program that coordinated 100 regional nonprofits to provide needed services and boost the construction of low-cost housing in the relatively inexpensive Houston market.

Neither the VA nor Houston was able to eliminate homelessness, however.

To Koh, that highlights the importance of prevention. In 2022, she published research in which she and a team used an artificial-intelligence-driven model to identify those who could benefit from early intervention before they wound up on the streets. The researchers examined a group of U.S. service members and found that self-reported histories of depression, trauma due to a loved one's murder and post-traumatic stress disorder were the three strongest predictors of homelessness after discharge.

In April 2023, Koh, with co-author Benjamin Land Gorman, suggested in the Journal of the American Medical Association that using “Critical Time Intervention,” where help is focused on key transitions, such as military discharge or release from prison or the hospital, has the potential to head off homelessness.

“So much of the clinical research and policy focus is on housing those who are already homeless,” Koh said. “But even if we were to house everybody who's homeless today, there are many more people coming down the line. We need sustainable policies that address these upstream determinants of homelessness, in order to truly solve this problem.”

The education imperative

Despite the obvious presence of people living and sleeping on city sidewalks, the topic of homelessness has been largely absent from the nation's colleges and universities. Howard Koh, former Massachusetts commissioner of public health and former U.S. assistant secretary for Health and Human Services, is working to change that.

In 2019, Koh, who is also the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, founded the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health's pilot Initiative on Health and Homelessness. The program seeks to educate tomorrow's leaders about homelessness and support research and interdisciplinary collaboration to create new knowledge on the topic. The Chan School's course “Homelessness and Health: Lessons from Health Care, Public Health, and Research” is one of just a handful focused on homelessness offered by schools of public health nationwide.

“The topic remains an orphan,” said Koh. The national public health leader (who also happens to be Katherine's father) traced his interest in the topic to a bitter winter while he was Massachusetts public health commissioner when 13 homeless people froze to death on Boston’s streets. “I've been haunted by this issue for several decades as a public health professional. We now want to motivate courageous and compassionate young leaders to step up and address the crisis, educate students, motivate researchers, and better inform policymakers about evidence-based studies. We want every student who walks through Harvard Yard and sees vulnerable people lying in Harvard Square to not accept their suffering as normal.”

2024 States News Service

HUD Announces $134 Millions for Florida Homeless

 By Amy Connolly

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s funding will go towards projects across the state for continuum of care.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced nearly $134 million in funding for more than 300 Florida projects to help the homeless. It is part of a $3.16 billion in continuum of care program awards for over 7,000 projects nationwide.

United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Professional photo of Marcia Fudge
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge

The funding is slated for programs across the state on large and small scales, from $3.4 million for a housing project in Miami-Dade to $3,500 for technology operations in DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. The total distribution for Florida will be $133,832,958.

“Now, more than ever, we are doing all we can to get people off the street and into permanent homes with access to services. That is why we are making sure the service providers on the frontlines of this crisis have the resources they need,” HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said.

The $3.16 billion represents the largest-ever amount of continuum of care program funding awarded to communities to address homelessness in history and provides a critical expansion of resources at a time when rates of homelessness are rising in most communities, HUD said. The 2023 awards also include approximately $57 million for new projects that will support housing and service needs for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Fudge said HUD has served or permanently housed 1.2 million people experiencing homelessness in the last three years.

“The historic awards we are announcing today will expand community capacity to assist more people in obtaining the safety and stability of a home, along with the supports they need to achieve their life goals,” she said.

© 2024 Florida Realtors®

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Florida Chamber: State Population to Slow in 2024

 By Amy Connolly

The chamber also said the housing market will begin to stabilize to a new normal, and home prices will no longer spike.

TALLAHASSEE – The state’s population will grow in 2024, but not as much as the previous year, and the population demographics will shift, Florida Chamber Foundation economists and researchers said during the organization’s annual economic outlook summit.

The chamber said the state will grow by 225,000 to 275,000 net new residents in 2024, which is slower than last year. Residents age 70+ will grow at a faster clip than in the 20 to 65 age range, the organization said.

With the population declines for those age 9 and under, ages 25 to 35 and ages 50 to 60, the gap in the talent supply is widening as essential working age populations move out.

At the same time, Florida is creating one in every 13 U.S. jobs, is growing by 1,000 people per day and has the lowest debt per capita of any state.

“Florida leads the nation in several important categories and has become the national model for economic growth,” Florida Chamber Foundation President and CEO Mark Wilson said at the 2024 Florida Economic Outlook & Jobs Solution Summit. “As Florida continues to experience extraordinary economic and population growth, it is essential our job creators continue uniting around the right long-term solutions to secure Florida’s future.”

The Solution Summit, which took place Thursday, included a 2024 Florida economic forecast, a national economic outlook and insight into Florida’s evolving workforce needs, housing trends, population growth, research and development potential and more.

The organization also expects the state’s housing market to stabilize to a “new normal.” In 2024, active listings will remain high and begin leveling off, chamber leaders said.

“Similarly, median housing prices are not expected to decline, but will also not see the same rapid spikes as in recent years. The median listing price is predicted to be $415,000 to $450,000 and the median rental estimate will be in the range of $1,450 to $1,650,” chamber leaders said.

Other insights from the summit include:

Annual job growth will continue to outpace the nation: Florida’s job growth in 2023 remained an average of 1.1% higher than the national level and has not been slower than the U.S. since 2017. Rapid economic growth in many areas of Florida’s economy, as well as high levels of population growth, fuels the prediction that Florida will remain on top of the country in job growth.

Florida will continue growing at a faster pace than any other state: Florida’s GDP grew 9.3% over 2023, the fastest rate in the country. Florida has the fastest growth over the last four years, a long-term trend the organization expects to continue in 2024.

Florida’s economic growth will remain positive but will slow to more sustainable levels: With national economists split on the potential of a national recession in 2024, the Florida Chamber Foundation does not predict that Florida will experience a recession. Florida’s GDP is expected to grow by 7%, higher than the national average.

There will be small interest rate cuts towards the second half of 2024: The Florida Chamber Foundation expects possible interest rate cuts in the second half of the year. However, the minor cuts are not anticipated to make a large impact on inflation in Florida, as inflation rates in parts of Florida currently exceed the national average.

Florida will see 100,000 to 150,000 new jobs in 2024: The trend of slowing job growth experienced over the last few months of 2023 will persist this year. Overall job growth for 2024 will be between 1.0% and 1.5%. Slowing growth, or even declines, will be prominent in the professional business services, financial activities and information industries, while high growth will occur in the education and health services industry.

Florida will continue to lead the nation in income migration: Most recent income migration figures showed $39.2 billion in net income migration to Florida. The Florida Chamber Foundation expects that figure to continue increasing as people from other states relocate to Florida for economic opportunity, no state income tax and other reasons.

© 2024 Florida Realtors®

Study: Baby Boomers Own 41.3% of Florida Homes

 A growing number of Americans plan to age in place rather than move to an assisted living or senior living facility, which will leave an inventory shortage.

WASHINGTON – A 2021 AARP survey found that 77% of Americans over age 50 plan to remain in their current home, rather than move to a senior living facility, assisted living community or move in with family.

As more older Americans choose to age in place, the housing market is expected to see less inventory for new home buyers. U.S. Census Bureau data show that while the number of Americans over age 55 that owned homes increased to 54.2%, the percentage of homeowners under age 35 remained steady and the percentage of homeowners between age 35 and 54 declined to 33.8% between 2008 and 2021.

For 2022, age 55 and older homeowners declined to 53.6%, homeowners under 35 was 12.2% and homeowners between age 35 and 54 totaled 34.2%, which were modest increases.

Baby boomers between age 58 and 76 in 2022 accounted for 38% of homeowners, even though they account for just 20% of the U.S. population. Baby boomers who own homes also dominate housing markets in warmer areas, including Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL (40.0%) and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL (38.9%).

Source: Pasco News Online (01/24/24)

© Copyright 2024 Smithbucklin

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Millennials Also Flock to Florida

 Of the more than 2,000 people who move to Florida every day, 27% are millennials age 28 to 43, a new survey found. They’re drawn by job prospects and affordability.

MIAMI – Long hailed as a haven for retirees, a new analysis of the latest migration trends from StorageCafe reveals that Florida is experiencing a shift as millennials (those between the age of 28 and 43) are taking center stage as the primary age demographic favoring the Sunshine State.

Overall, among the top 10 states for net migration gains, Florida took StorageCafe’s top spot as the country’s leading moving destination.

According to the research, overall, 736,000 people moved to Florida in 2022 and 497,000 left the state, leading to a population upswing of nearly 240,000 people — including a net gain of 34,000 millennials.

Why are millennials moving to Florida?

According to Aura Michelle Mogosanu of StorageCafe, among the roughly 2,015 people who moved to Florida every day, 27% were millennials — and the inviting weather isn’t the only reason. Young professionals and families are likely attracted to Florida’s beaches, the absence of a state income tax and abundant job prospects in hubs like Tampa’s burgeoning technology sector and Miami’s thriving business centers.

Mogosanu also says home affordability is a top driving force behind these relocations.

“Even though the explosion in popularity was accompanied by steep home price increases of up to 31% in the past five years in Florida, homes are still about 13% and 18% more affordable than those in New York and New Jersey,” Mogosanu said. “But the most substantial benefits await those trading California for Florida, as they are halving their home buying costs. They could potentially save approximately $364,000 in home acquisition costs by making the swap. It may come as no surprise then that an amazing 56% of Californian transplants become homeowners during their first year in Florida.”

The ongoing vitality of Florida’s real estate construction industry continues to play a crucial role in maintaining the state’s competitiveness in the realm of homeownership.

In Jacksonville, more than 37,000 permits were issued for single family homes from 2013 to 2022, the fourth-highest number among the 100 biggest urban hubs. Further, the apartment market experienced significant growth, marked by the issuance of approximately 28,000 permits for multifamily units during the same period.

Where are Florida’s new residents moving from?

In America’s ever shifting residential landscape, the five states with the most households who moved to Florida are New York, California, New Jersey, Georgia and Texas.

Among the top three, about 90,000 New Yorkers made the move Florida’s sunny shores. Not surprising, given that on average, single renters in the Big Apple must allocate just over 71% of their median annual salary of $55,810 to afford the $3,308 average monthly rent. In fact, former city dwellers moved to Florida from New York at a rate 1.84 times higher than from California, which contributed 49,000 new Floridians, followed by 47,000 from New Jersey.

What area of Florida are new residents moving to?

A recent report from Zillow placed Orlando and Tampa among the top 10 hottest real estate markets for 2024 for their blend of job growth relative to new construction, swiftly selling homes on the market, an abundance of potential buyers and the expectation of stable home values. Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa also secured a spot among the best locations for real estate development.

According to a report from Redfin, more people across the country researched Miami property listings than any other metro area in the country. Four other Florida cities including Tampa, Orlando, Cape Coral and North Port Sarasota – also made the top ten.

© 2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Residents, Jobs Helped Florida’s 2023 Housing Market

 By Marla Martin

Florida Realtors chief economist: “Florida weathered the storm” of higher interest rates and ongoing inflation making 2023, a “rough year for residential real estate.”

ORLANDO, FL – As 2023 ended, Florida’s inventory of for-sale existing homes and condo properties showed gains over 2022, while statewide median sales prices continued to rise year-over-year despite higher interest rates and ongoing inflation, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

Year End 2023

“2023 was a rough year for residential real estate here in the U.S. and around the world, as central banks continued to raise interest rates to combat inflation, though Florida weathered the storm fairly well,” said Florida Realtors® Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor. “The state’s economy churned out new jobs at one of the highest rates of any state, and throughout the year, both retirees and working-age adults and their families continued to move here in droves from elsewhere in the country. Both of those factors helped mitigate some of the dampening effect that high mortgage rates had on homebuyer demand in 2023, but they weren’t enough to keep home sales from declining.”

Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes at the end of the year totaled 257,679, down 10.3% compared to the 2022 year-end level, according to data from Florida Realtors’ research department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. For existing condo-townhouses, a total of 105,411 units sold statewide in 2023, down 16% compared to 2022. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

O’Connor pointed out, “Like the rest of the country, Florida remained mired in a housing shortage throughout 2023, although inventory (active listings) levels at the end of the year were higher than where they started by 17.8% for single-family homes and 52.6% for condos and townhouses. However, inventory remains below pre-pandemic levels and while the balance has shifted somewhat toward buyers as of late, we solidly remain in seller’s market territory.”

He added that “the amount of housing supply remains too limited and the demand for housing in Florida remains too strong to support any sort of significant home price correction any time soon.”

The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes at year’s end was $410,000, up 1.9% from the previous year. The statewide median price for condo-townhouse properties at the end of the year was $322,500, up 5.2% from the previous year. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Florida Realtors’ data showed that at the end of 2023, in December 2023 and also in 4Q 2023, inventory (active listings) for single-family homes stood at a 3.6-months’ supply, while inventory for condo-townhouse properties was at a 5.1-months’ supply.

December 2023

In December, closed sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 18,423, down 3.8% from December 2022, while existing condo-townhouse sales totaled 7,202, down 6.2% year-over-year, according to Florida Realtors’ data.

The statewide median sales prices for both existing single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties rose year-over-year in December 2023. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $410,000, up 3.8% from the previous year. Meanwhile, the statewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $330,000, up 6.5% over the year-ago figure.

4Q 2023

Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 55,874 in 4Q 2023, down 2% compared to the previous-year figure, according to Florida Realtors’ data. The statewide median sales price for existing single-family homes for the quarter was $410,805, up 2.7% from 4Q 2022.

Looking at Florida’s year-to-year comparison for sales of condo-townhouses in 4Q 2023, a total of 22,425 units sold statewide, down 3% from the same quarter in 2022. The statewide median price for condo-townhouse properties for the quarter was $325,173, up 4.9% over the previous year.

Looking ahead, O’Connor said, “I expect to see continued improvement in the rate of sales as we go forward in 2024, now that mortgage rates have likely peaked and there’s a good possibility of the Federal Reserve starting to cut rates in the coming months.”

To see the full statewide housing activity reports, go to the Florida Realtors’ Newsroom and look under Latest Releases or download the December, 4Q or Year End 2023 data report PDFs under Market Data on the site.

© 2024 Florida Realtors®

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Florida Lawmakers: Citizens Insurance for All?

 By Ron Hurtibise

State Rep. Sheldon Roach thinks Citizens Property Insurance Corp. could become the state’s go-to windstorm coverage provider, but others say it’s not a good idea.

MIAMI – What if state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp. became the go-to provider of windstorm coverage for all personal and commercial property owners in Florida who want it?

State Rep. Sheldon Roach, who lost his home in Hurricane Ian in September 2022, says it’s an idea worth exploring.

“My belief is that Florida eventually and inevitably is going to move into the direction of offering universal windstorm insurance,” Roach said in an interview this week.

The Lee County Republican has filed a bill for the upcoming Legislative session that would significantly change Citizens’ mission from the insurer of last resort to the state’s hurricane backstop.

If enacted, Citizens would no longer offer comprehensive coverage to Florida homeowners who cannot find affordable coverage in the private market, but instead would potentially free the private market to sell “bread and butter” comprehensive coverage. Roach says his plan would lead to insurance rates “dropping like a stone.”

The new plan, he says, would be modeled after the National Flood Insurance Program, administered by the federal government, and the California Earthquake Authority.

But using the two programs as models might not convince legislators to sign on to the idea.

California’s program was created after a 6.7-magnitude quake hit Southern California in 1994 and prompted companies insuring 93% of California homeowners to either drastically cut back on issuing new policies or stop issuing them altogether.

Separating earthquake risk from other perils convinced insurers to remain in the state, but now only about 10% of homeowners in the state purchase earthquake insurance.

Because the program is required to be self-sufficient, with no state funding, the program last year announced plans to cut coverage of personal property from $200,000 to $25,000 and eliminate the lowest deductibles for homes built before 1980 that have not been retrofitted or homes worth more than $1 million. Rates will also increase.

A program official recently told KQED-FM, a public radio station, that the changes were prompted by rising costs.

The National Flood Insurance Program, burdened by numerous flood disasters since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is currently $20.5 billion in debt and paying $1.7 million per day in interest on that debt. A recent effort to bring premiums more in line with risk has resulted in heavy rate increases for properties in areas most vulnerable to flooding.

Unlike state-run insurance, the flood insurance program could be bailed out at any time by the federal government’s ability to print money.

Insurance insiders interviewed about Roach’s proposal voiced skepticism that it would work, and near certainty that the state Legislature would not go along with the idea of putting the state’s treasury and credit rating on the line.

Despite rising premiums in recent years, several insiders say that the private market system is working. That system is comprised of more than 100 private carriers who are responsible to secure reinsurance from private financiers each year to ensure they’ll be able to pay all claims in case of a catastrophic storm, they said.

California’s system and the National Flood Insurance Program were created to cover homeowners at times when no insurer would cover earthquake and flood risks, insurance consultant Lisa Miller said.

“If there’s a perception by some lawmakers that private insurance companies are not writing wind policies in the state, they are mistaken,” Miller said by email. “Florida has 7.5 million property insurance policies and private companies are writing homeowners insurance with wind coverage every day. Depending on the location and risk, it is expensive, and that’s because Florida is the most catastrophe-prone state in the country.”

Too costly, insurance insiders say

A state-run program would have to be financed with reinsurance or with state funding, the insiders said.

If the state had to cover losses equal to those sustained during the 2004-05 hurricanes, it would have had to pay $100 billion, adjusted for inflation, said Bruce Lucas, CEO and founder of Slide Insurance Corp. The state would then need to cover an additional $100 billion in potential losses the following year and every year thereafter, he said.

“This could bankrupt the State of Florida and cause significant credit defaults and downgrades for the state’s current bonds,” Lucas said.

Florida would have to recover the costs by charging special assessments to all policyholders, which would make it more expensive than the current setup, he said.

Stacey Giulianti, chief legal officer at Florida Peninsula Insurance, noted that many recent insurance claims in Florida have been caused by weather events that were not hurricanes.

“Those storms remain on the risk profile of the private carriers, so moving catastrophe risk to the state will not significantly reduce rates,” he said.

To avoid pledging the state’s treasury, Citizens would have to “purchase an enormous amount of reinsurance,” Giulianti said.

“That type of market buying would have a negative ripple effect in the overall insurance market and would not help reduce primary rates,” he said. “In addition, there is a certain cost to taking windstorm risk on any portfolio, and it doesn’t make sense that the government could sell a product below the hard cost.”

Plus, he said, the idea flies in the face of the state’s goal to reduce, and not expand, the risk of special assessments that a growing Citizens poses for Florida insurance customers.

Roach, however, says the state should be able to build up a reserve during years without hurricanes that could be tapped when needed.

Too many insurers have collected premiums and “put them in their pocket” during years with no hurricanes, then folded their tents after a major one hits, he said.

When an insurer goes bankrupt, its existing debts are transferred to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which recoups those costs with special assessments that are passed to customers by remaining insurers.

Similar ideas have fallen flat

Ideas similar to Roach’s have been proposed over the past 20 years but have never been fully explored. Some blame the powerful insurance lobby, which could lose millions in revenue generated during years that the state has no hurricanes.

In the late 2000s, a group of St. Petersburg businessmen proposed combining Citizens and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which provides low-level reinsurance to Florida carriers, to create a company that would only provide hurricane insurance.

Premiums collected during hurricane-free years would be saved for use when windstorms eventually hit. The group predicted that the entity would accrue a surplus of $82 million over 10 years.

Writing in the Tampa Bay Times, retired insurance regulator Thomas Cook proposed a similar plan, among others, in December 2022.

Roach says he has talked to counterparts in the Senate about his bill, but none have agreed to sponsor a version of it in that chamber.

While he’s not optimistic his bill will advance this year, he’s convinced that his fellow lawmakers will eventually come around to the idea that windstorms are “incalculable” and “uninsurable” under the present system.

“Do I have all the answers? No,” he said. “Filing the bill is the starting point. I think we need to start having these discussions and say what are we going to do when the market collapses.”

©2024 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Economist: Florida Outlook Mostly Sunny

 By Sean Snaith

UCF’s Dr. Sean Snaith said Florida has a “solid safety net” if the economy stumbles. Snaith will share insights during the Florida Real Estate Trends summit on Jan. 19.

SARASOTA – The United States may be entering an economic slowdown in the coming months, but Florida's economy will be largely sheltered from this storm in 2024.

After the 2008-09 and 2020 recessions hit Florida's economy disproportionately hard, a slowing national economy won't have the same devastating impact on the Sunshine State or in the Tampa Bay and Gulf Coast regions.

Instead, we've got “sandbags” of population growth to protect us, shoring up the economy here and helping curtail the erosion of economic activity that was so destructive to our region's economy during those previous recessions.

While Florida's economy may slow some in 2024, our growth will remain positive for the year.

Keeping this overall economic outlook in mind, here are four predictions for how we'll fair in the coming year:

A softer labor market

The labor market will show some signs of softening with the unemployment rate drifting upward and some payroll jobs losses, but not in every sector of the economy, as the year progresses.

The good news is that the labor market is in a strong position as we enter this slower-growth environment and will not suffer the severe damage of those prior recessions.

Inflation woes

Inflation will continue to ease as we move through 2024 but at the current slow pace. Thus, it is unlikely that the Federal Reserve Bank will begin to cut interest rates until 2025 when the target inflation rate of 2% is clearly in sight.

Even higher-priced housing

The housing market in Florida and Tampa Bay has seen a dramatic slowing of transactions, but this slowing has not translated into an easing of home prices.

The combination of high prices, higher mortgage rates and the homeowners' insurance debacle has put the monthly payment needed for homeownership out of the reach of an increasing number of potential homebuyers.

Inventories of homes for sale remain depleted across the state and even more so in the Tampa Bay region. This shortage has prevented prices from softening, despite the diminished demand. The housing market will remain a key challenge for the region's economy throughout 2024 and beyond.

Transportation troubles

Our housing affordability woes are intertwined with another of the region's challenges: its transportation network.

A transportation network that can get workers from where they can afford housing to where they are employed is a key ingredient in addressing the housing affordability problem. Transportation projects like Brightline are just a piece of it.

At the start of 2023, many were convinced that the U.S. economy was headed for a recession. But as 2024 commences, it looks more like it will be a balancing act next year.

If the national economy was to stumble – and that is a real possibility – Florida, Tampa Bay and the Gulf Coast's economies have a solid safety net in place to help minimize the damage and “weather the storm.”

Sean Snaith is the director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Forecasting and is nationally recognized by Bloomberg News as one of the country's most accurate economic forecasters.

© Copyright, 2024, Business Observer (Sarasota, FL), All Rights Reserved. Home Listings Up, Prices Stabilizing

 By Amy Connolly data from December shows home listings are going up and prices are stabilizing. Still, locked-in owners might be reluctant to sell.

NEW YORK – Buyers across the country saw 33,251 more real estate listings in December compared to the same month last year while the median sale price remained relatively stable, reported in its latest housing trends report. said the median sale price of homes in December grew by 1.2% year over year.  The higher number of unsold inventory could be attributed to the ongoing growth in newly listed homes, the organization said. December was the second month since June 2023 that home shoppers were able to see a larger number of unsold homes than a year prior.  The South was the only region in the United States that saw significant year-over-year growth in inventory in December with 7.7% growth. Inventory rose 0.2% in the Midwest and declined 8.0% and 14.8% in the Northeast.

On average, homes spent 61 days on the market, which is four days shorter than last year and about two weeks shorter than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization said the downward trend in mortgage rates could have a positive impact on home-selling sentiment, leading to more new listings on the market.

‘Nevertheless, once mortgage rates start to decline consistently, there is a potential for a slower-than-expected growth in listing activities,” analysts said. “Given that approximately two-thirds of outstanding mortgages currently have rates below 4%, a significant number of individuals might opt to postpone their home selling in anticipation of even lower rates to buy their next homes.”

On a typical day in December, there were 4.9% more homes actively for sale year over year, said. The total number of unsold homes, including homes that are under contract, increased by 3.6% compared to last year.

“This positive trend can be attributed to a modest monthly decrease in active inventory in December 2023. In fact, during 2017 and 2022, the monthly decline in active inventory from November to December varied between 6.8% and 13.1%. While November witnessed an unusual uptick in inventory, December saw a more conventional seasonal trend with a modest monthly decline of 4.7%. Despite this encouraging annual increase, active inventory still remained 36.0% below typical 2017 to 2019 levels,” said officials.

© 2024 Florida Realtors®

Wednesday, January 10, 2024 Home Listings Up, Prices Stabilizing


By Amy Connolly data from December shows home listings are going up and prices are stabilizing. Still, locked-in owners might be reluctant to sell.

NEW YORK – Buyers across the country saw 33,251 more real estate listings in December compared to the same month last year while the median sale price remained relatively stable, reported in its latest housing trends report. said the median sale price of homes in December grew by 1.2% year over year.  The higher number of unsold inventory could be attributed to the ongoing growth in newly listed homes, the organization said. December was the second month since June 2023 that home shoppers were able to see a larger number of unsold homes than a year prior.  The South was the only region in the United States that saw significant year-over-year growth in inventory in December with 7.7% growth. Inventory rose 0.2% in the Midwest and declined 8.0% and 14.8% in the Northeast.

On average, homes spent 61 days on the market, which is four days shorter than last year and about two weeks shorter than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization said the downward trend in mortgage rates could have a positive impact on home-selling sentiment, leading to more new listings on the market.

‘Nevertheless, once mortgage rates start to decline consistently, there is a potential for a slower-than-expected growth in listing activities,” analysts said. “Given that approximately two-thirds of outstanding mortgages currently have rates below 4%, a significant number of individuals might opt to postpone their home selling in anticipation of even lower rates to buy their next homes.”

On a typical day in December, there were 4.9% more homes actively for sale year over year, said. The total number of unsold homes, including homes that are under contract, increased by 3.6% compared to last year.

“This positive trend can be attributed to a modest monthly decrease in active inventory in December 2023. In fact, during 2017 and 2022, the monthly decline in active inventory from November to December varied between 6.8% and 13.1%. While November witnessed an unusual uptick in inventory, December saw a more conventional seasonal trend with a modest monthly decline of 4.7%. Despite this encouraging annual increase, active inventory still remained 36.0% below typical 2017 to 2019 levels,” said officials.

© 2024 Florida Realtors®

Important Terms to Understand Homebuying


Important Terms to Understand Homebuying

By Delaney Nelson - © 2024 Growing Community Media, NFP.

The process of getting ready to buy a home can be complicated — and wordy. Especially if it's your first time. Here, we've made it a little easier for you by defining some of the words and phrases you're likely to come across at the start of your home buying journey.

The big picture

  • Mortgage: an agreement between a homebuyer and lender that says if the borrower fails to pay off their loan plus interest, the lender can take possession of the property. Mortgage is also often used to refer to a home loan.

  • Mortgage rate: the percentage of interest on a home loan. Mortgage rates can change with overall economic conditions, but also depend on your credit score and financial circumstances.

  • Variable rate mortgage: This is a type of mortgage where the rate will go up and down as the economy changes.

  • Fixed rate mortgage: This kind of mortgage has a rate that will stay the same for the duration of the mortgage.

  • Appreciation: an increase in the value of a home due to changing market conditions, home improvements and/or other factors.

  • Depreciation: a decrease in the value of a home due to changing market conditions, wear and tear and/or other factors.

  • Equity: the difference between what you owe on your mortgage and what your home is currently worth.

  • Real estate agent: a professional who has completed training and passed a state examination to sell or rent real estate within a particular state. Real estate agents work under a real estate broker. A Realtor® is a real estate agent or broker who is a member of the National Association of Realtors®.

Payment and financing

Before looking at potential houses or meeting with a Realtor, it's important to make sure you're financially ready to buy a home. Mortgages almost always require a down payment, and saving for one is a major first step that can take years, depending on your financial situation. Assistance programs do exist that can help with your down payment, only require small down payments or don't require one at all. Knowing more about down payments and what type of loan you may qualify for will help you plan how much to save.

  • Down payment: the percentage or amount a buyer pays upfront when buying a home. The average down payment for first time buyers in 2023 was 8%, according to a study by the National Association of Realtors.

  • AMI (Area Median Income): the median (average) household income within a certain geographic area. AMI is calculated and published annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is a key factor for determining eligibility for many down payment assistance programs.

  • Assets: Broadly, assets are things of value. Some assets that may be used for mortgage qualification include bank accounts, property and retirement accounts.

  • DPA (Down payment assistance) programs: loan or grant programs offered by nonprofit organizations, employers or state or local government entities that help people purchase a home. These programs are generally for low- to moderate-income families or first-time homebuyers (FTHBs).

  • FHA loan: a government-backed loan available to low to moderate earners, including those with lower credit scores or other financial issues. FHA loans allow lower down payments than conventional loans.

  • Maximum housing expense: the greatest amount an individual or household can afford to spend on housing-related expenses. These include mortgage payments, property taxes and property insurance. A frequently cited rule of thumb is housing expenses should not exceed 28% of your gross monthly income.

  • VA loan: a home loan backed by the Department of Veteran Affairs for U.S. veterans. These loans have a low down payment or none at all — and nearly 90% of all VA-backed home loans are made without a down payment.


Working to improve your credit score is another step you can take toward preparing to buy a house. Understanding how credit scores work can help you improve your own. And they do matter: A strong credit score proves to lenders that you are likely to pay back their loan — and is often necessary to qualify for a home loan with optimal terms.

  • Credit score: a three-digit number that attempts to predict how likely a borrower is to default on a future loan. Companies like FICO and VantageScore calculate credit scores using information about a borrower's bill paying, borrowing and loan repayment history. They generally range from 300 to 850 — the higher your credit score, the better. A strong credit score makes it possible to qualify for more favorable loans.

  • Credit bureau: a company that collects and retains credit information and then provides that information — for a fee — in the form of a credit report to lenders or creditors. A credit bureau is also commonly referred to as a credit reporting agency. The three main credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

  • Credit repair companies: private, for-profit businesses that claim to help borrowers with debt or credit difficulties. Many companies that say they can “fix” credit problems fast are predatory. Credit repair companies are not the same as credit counseling organizations, which help borrowers safely rebuild their credit.

  • Credit report: a record of a borrower's credit history, including data from banks, credit card companies, collections agencies and more. This includes whether payments were made on time.The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003 requires all three major credit reporting agencies to provide credit reports to each consumer once a year upon request, free of charge. Consumers can request their report at

  • Default: failure to repay a loan according to terms agreed upon between the borrower and the lender. Generally, one goes into default when they completely stop making loan payments for a period of time. Defaulting hurts your credit score, but there are paths to building your credit back up after a default.

  • Delinquency: any late payment on a loan, credit card or other debt payment. Depending on how long the loan remains unpaid, your credit score could be affected.

  • DTI (Debt-to-Income ratio): monthly debt payments divided by gross monthly income equals your DTI. Lenders use this number to determine how much a borrower can afford to spend on monthly home loan payments.

  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act: enacted in 1974, it made it illegal for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, marital status, receipt of income from public assistance programs or the applicant's good faith exercise of his or her rights under the Federal Consumer Credit Protection Act.

  • Non-traditional credit: If a potential buyer lacks an established credit history, they might assemble a non-traditional credit history which would involve proof of regular payments to entities other than a lender. These might include rent, utility or cell phone payments.

Getting serious

After you've built up your credit and saved for a down payment, the next step might be pre-qualification or pre-approval for a loan. In addition to showing sellers you're serious about buying, prequalification or preapproval will also give you a clearer idea of what you're able to afford.

  • Mortgage pre-qualification: an estimate from a bank or other lender of how much they would lend a borrower. This is based on information provided by the borrower.

  • Mortgage pre-approval: an offer from a lender to loan a certain amount, good for a given time frame. This is based on information verified by the lender including a credit check and is more formal than pre-qualification.