The aftereffects of Hurricane Ian are just coming into focus as recovery efforts are underway and residents in the hardest-hit areas assess the state of their homes—and their options for moving forward. 

What is already clear is the impact of this storm will be hardest on those who are already living from paycheck to paycheck, with nothing to put toward home repairs, let alone new and more expensive accommodations. 

Floridians who’ve lost their homes face an affordable housing crunch and soaring rental costs, making it all but impossible for the newly homeless to find shelter. 

Florida’s popularity as a migration destination, combined with inflation, has made it one of the least affordable housing markets in the country. 

Assessing the damage and death toll

According to state and local officials in Florida, the death toll is over 100. 

When Hurricane Ian tore through Florida, it left a harrowing path of destruction running from Key West, through inland farming communities in the Orlando suburbs, to the coastal metros of Naples and Fort Myers in the southwest. 

Lee County bore the brunt of it, with nearly 400 buildings in Fort Myers damaged or destroyed and Sanibel Island, home to around 6,400 people, rendered “uninhabitable.” 

Flooding continues in Central Florida’s Seminole County, where the storm has damaged at least 1,900 homes. In Key West, around 200 people have been displaced. 

Cities will rebuild. But what about poor communities? What about individuals?

Edward Murray

Housing expert and Associate Director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University

Struggling Floridians hit the hardest

A New York Times article documented stories from some of the hardest-hit residents. Llewellyn Davenport, 50, lost both his trailer home and his car to Hurricane Ian. 

I don’t have enough money to replace my car and my house. I got enough money to replace one or the other.

Llewellyn Davenport

For around 2.24 million households in Florida with incomes below $50,000 a year, more than 30% of that income goes to housing costs (rent or mortgage). 

To make matters worse, less than 20% of homes in counties under evacuation orders are covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. 

In these areas, people with low wages or fixed incomes bear the full cost of repairing or replacing homes damaged or destroyed by flooding. In interviews, some said their only option is staying in their water-damaged homes and making the best of it. 

Many workers and families living paycheck to paycheck in the shadows of coastal Florida’s luxury living are now homeless and collecting what they can from the ruins of their homes. 

I live in Naples… What I know about that particular area of Florida is there already has been a huge inventory shortage…So, for the folks who’ve lived there [in homes] passed down through generations, they’ve lived there their whole life…and now it’s gone, and they know nothing else other than southwest Florida. Where are they going to go? There was no inventory to begin with before this happened.

Byron Lazine

Affordable housing is in short supply

In Key West, 35 people—including Javier Martinez, 49—lost their apartments to a fire believed to be storm-related. Mr. Martinez had moved in three years ago, paying $1,500 a month for a three-bedroom unit. A comparable apartment now costs double that amount or more. 

We are trying to stay in Key West, but it is very difficult. Thirty-five people lost their apartments, and not one has found a place.

Javier Martinez

According to Florida TaxWatch, rents have increased by more than 30% over the past two years. Median rent across the state jumped from about $1,340 in February 2020 to around $1,760 in February 2022. 

Two of the biggest reasons for that growth are Florida’s lack of a state income tax and its year-round sunshine. The endless beaches are also a big draw. 

In Lee County, home to some of the hardest-hit areas—-Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, and Sanibel Island—the population has grown by 27% between 2010 and 2021. 

Housing advocates and local officials have been vocal in their support for the construction of affordable apartments, as well as creative financing solutions for first-time, low-income homebuyers. 

Earlier this year, state lawmakers designated $363 million to affordable housing programs. Now, the destruction from Hurricane Ian is making it even harder to provide affordable homes for Florida’s most vulnerable residents—pinching an already tight market.  

There was already a gap between what housing costs and what people can afford. The communities that were hardest hit in Southwest Florida already had been seeing large increases in rent over the past year or so. A storm like this comes along and we could lose that critical supply of affordable housing.

Anne Ray

Researcher at the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies

Climate risk is impacting more buyers and sellers

According to a new Redfin report, nearly two-thirds of people planning to buy or sell a home in the next twelve months are reluctant to relocate to areas at high risk of climate risk-related natural disasters, extreme temperatures (heat and cold), and rising sea levels. 

That share is even higher among respondents who were Gen Z, high earners, Democrat, or living in the Northeast.

Over 50% of respondents earning $100K a year say the risk of natural disasters played a role in their chosen relocation destination, compared to under 40% of those earning less. 

Redfin-igraph-climate-risk

Affluent Americans have the means to move away from areas endangered by climate change, while lower-income Americans often can’t afford to make that a priority. The recent surge in housing prices has exacerbated the problem; more house hunters are being forced to prioritize affordability over safety. The good news is people are becoming more educated about climate risks and what they can do to make their existing homes more resilient if relocating isn’t an option. Of course, that comes with costs as well.

Daryl Fairweather

Redfin Chief Economist

Florida remains a popular destination

Florida’s continued popularity as a relocation destination is partly due to its relatively affordable market (compared to some) and its warmer weather, waterfront access, and other outdoor attractions. 

So, while the majority of Redfin’s survey respondents were skeptical about moving to high-risk areas, these same areas still see a net inflow. 

Three Florida metros heavily impacted by Hurricane Ian—Tampa, North Port, and Cape Coral—consistently rank among the top migration destinations on Redfin’s list. 

Redfin-table-top-10-metros-by-net-inflow

While the places most endangered by natural disasters are still popular with many homebuyers, that could shift as young people who grew up learning about climate change become a larger force in the housing market.

Daryl Fairweather

Redfin Chief Economist

What you can do to help

As Byron mentioned at the beginning of this week’s episode of The Real Word, BAM supports the Florida Realtors Disaster Relief Fund. Every donation helps realtors in the area involved in the recovery effort.

Sign up to make a tax-deductible donation.