Monday, November 20, 2017

Greedy landlords and the homelessness problem (SAR)

Good column in St. Augustine Record by Bob Tis:

Posted November 20, 2017 12:02 am
By BOB TIS Smooth Sailin’
SMOOTH SAILIN’: Pin the tail of this problem on your landlord

I will say this for our City Manager, he is a diplomat. We have been hearing a lot of talk lately about the homeless people in St. Augustine and panhandlers disturbing the ambiance of the downtown. Like many of us, John Regan probably knows exactly what the cause of any homeless problem is. He was too polite to come out and say it out loud in City Hall chambers recently, but he did give everyone a hint. Mr. Regan, who works for the city commission for six figures a year, suggested that affordable housing would alleviate some of the problems with the rising homeless population in our Ancient City. I concur and applaud his forthrightness and clear ability to master the obvious.

I believe if we want to be truly honest with ourselves we have to put the blame for any homeless problem we have in St. Augustine squarely in the lap of the greedy landlords who have been taking advantage of the renters in the city for too long.

We all watched while the fearless fat-walleted entrepreneurs among us took it upon themselves to make residential real estate their sole occupation. We all watched when folks scooped up bank foreclosures and began flipping them to feather their own nests. The gentrification of Linconville took place right before our eyes. Nocatee seems like the moon to me but it is making some developers very happy.

So I don’t think any of us were too surprised when we watched our neighbors who invested in extra homes and apartments as side projects try to get rich quick by charging young families anywhere from $1,200 to $2,500 a month to live in and maintain their often subpar units. We really should line some of these landlords up on St. George Street and spit on them. There just are not jobs in St. Johns County that allow a parent to pay $2,000 a month in rent.


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When residential real estate became the business of America, some smart folks created companies like Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owner. Now, everyone with a shack in their backyard is a hotel owner. I am as guilty as anyone. And the demand for these $50 to $200 nightly rentals seems endless. And it doesn’t even seem to bother the real hotels that charge way more per night and are booked solid this week. My spies on St. Augustine Beach tell me that when they open the new hotel on the beach late in the spring of next year the 175 rooms they are molding in that beachside behemoth will rent for around $250 a night. I must be running in the wrong circles because I don’t know who can drop that kind of cabbage to sleep near the beach.

Unfortunately, we created this problem. We allow people to take perfectly good cottages and apartments out of the rental market and sell them nightly. We encourage developers to clear cut hundreds of acres of land and build new houses with coriander countertops that no one living here currently can afford. We salute the neighbor who rents out his second home to the surfer with a trust fund. Not only do we allow everyone in residential real estate to make a killing we don’t even really attempt to tax them. We celebrate greed.

The homeless problem is on us. It could be partially alleviated with rent control, but you won’t hear that word bandied about City Hall too much. Private residence hotel taxes and realistic taxes on large developers might help the homeless problem, but it won’t go away because the people who set the policy in this city are the same people who are expanding their portfolios.

If we made new laws that discouraged landlords from exploiting low-income residents and bilking tourists, everyone in the real estate business would have to get a real job.

Bob Tis is a former Record reporter.

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