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Miami’s lure during COVID sends housing prices through the roof

MIAMI (AFP) – Miami resident Maria Ruby learned last month that her rent will shoot up 65 per cent in February. She cannot afford it and does not know where to go.

Her plight illustrates an unexpected effect of the coronavirus pandemic: Miami is seeing some of the highest housing cost increases anywhere in the United States (US).

Metropolitan Miami was already a lure even before COVID, with its warm weather, white sand beaches and absence of state – though not federal – income tax.

It is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city that is attractive to European and Latin American investors.

But the pandemic made Miami even more of a mecca. Strict lockdown rules in other parts of the US and the rise of working from home for a company that could be far away caused many people to up and move to the south of Florida.

They flocked from northeastern cities such as New York and Boston, as well as from California, and found cheaper rent and Republican politicians eager to get the state economy running again after the ravages of COVID lockdowns.

Miami Workers Centre member Norma Uriostegui protests rent hikes outside a landlord’s office building in Miami, Florida. PHOTO: AFP

“They started coming to South Florida in droves,” said board chair of the Miami Association of Realtors Jennifer Wollmann.

“Our weather, business-friendly state and open spaces are very attractive for people coming from states that were cold and shut down,” she said.

The effect quickly became apparent. People with better paying jobs than the going rate in south Florida caused housing prices to shoot up.

A study by Realtor.com said metropolitan Miami saw the steepest rent hikes last year in America.

Median rent in November – it did not specify what kind of dwelling – was USD2,800, up a whopping 44 per cent from the same month of 2020.

For Ruby, a 57-year-old cashier, this change has been very painful.

For the past quarter-century, she has lived in an apartment in a 20-unit building in Hialeah, a town next to Miami with a majority population of people of Cuban descent.

The building has new owners, and they told the tenants their rent is going from USD1,000-1,650 a month.

Ruby earns USD14 an hour, lives with her daughter and son-in-law, and cannot afford that big jump. She does not know what to do.

“We don’t sleep well at night,” Ruby said. “I do not know what will become of us.”

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