Thursday, May 19, 2022

Boca Renters Squeezed Out and Delray Tries To Rewrite History

There’s new evidence of how tightly the local housing market is squeezing renters.

According to the apartment search website RentCafe, $1,700 per month in Boca Raton will get you 640 square feet. For perspective, that’s roughly twice the size of a traditional hotel room. In Delray Beach, that monthly payment would get you about 700 square feet.

Obviously, that’s not much room, even in some newer complexes that feature lots of nice public spaces to compensate for the small apartments. Rental websites list starting rents at the 384-unit Broadstone in Boca Raton, for example, at about $1,500.

But if you use the traditional measure of one week’s salary for one month’s rent, a single person would have to make between $85,000 and $90,000 to reasonably afford an apartment that rents for $1,700. Not many twentysomethings make that much. Though more apartments are available in Boca Raton starting at about $2,500 per month, they require an annual salary of between $125,000 and $130,000.

Last week, I participated in a forum at the Boca Raton Historical Museum. One question prompted me to recall when the city was much smaller and residents complained that their children couldn’t come home after college because there weren’t enough jobs.

Now Boca Raton has more jobs, but housing costs are forcing first-time buyers out of the market. Apartments that once provided a bridge to homeownership have become much more costly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

If there’s any “good” news, it’s that RentCafe found two South Florida cities that are even more expensive for renters—Miami Beach and Coral Gables. If you want to live near Boca Raton and Delray Beach but they are too expensive, $1,700 in Deerfield Beach translates to 910 square feet. Statewide, your money goes farthest in Panama City, in Florida’s Panhandle.

Boca Raton long has had a higher cost of living than neighboring cities. Delray Beach has been catching up. Housing costs, however, have become more acute as out-of-state demand and investor purchases of homes and apartments drive up prices.

Frustratingly for local officials, there’s little they can do. Cities can’t regulate who buys what properties. Even if a city or county wanted to try rent control, the Legislature likely would overrule it.

That leaves inventory. More supply would push down demand and, in theory, prices. Delray Beach recently has embraced the idea that the city needs more housing. One option might be office buildings that are less occupied since the pandemic. But Boca Raton and Delray Beach also are seeking businesses that want to move.

Both cities will have goal-setting sessions this spring. Housing costs should be on the agenda.

Rewriting history?

delray

In its motion to dismiss the lawsuit by Old School Square, Delray Beach seeks to rewrite history.

When Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted last August to terminate the group’s lease, the meeting agenda did not list an action item on the lease. It listed only a presentation by Internal Auditor Julia Davidyan on Old School Square’s compliance with the terms of the lease.

The city’s attorneys, however, argue that the “noticed presentation” was sufficient warning. Old School Square representatives who were at the meeting to comment on the presentation, however, say the city gave no indication that a vote might occur. Only the backup material referenced Old School Square. Indeed, Johnson interrupted and pivoted during the presentation to call for a vote.

The city further argues against the allegation of wrongful termination by claimed that allowing public comment after the vote also was sufficient. But the decision had been made. Petrolia never allowed Old School Square to respond before the vote. Essentially, the city argues that convicting someone before hearing testimony is fair.

Delray Beach claims that the lawsuit is groundless because cities can’t be held liable because of “bad judgment.” Wrongful termination, the city argues, must be a “conscious and deliberate act.”

But that is Old School Square’s case—that the termination arose from a conspiracy that included former Old School Square officials. The group contends that the decision to terminate was arranged before the Aug. 10 meeting. The city responds that Petrolia, Casale and Johnson had “discretion” to end the lease.

One can understand why the city wants Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes to toss the lawsuit. If he allows it to proceed, Old School Square can move to the discovery phase, which will involve sworn depositions of Petrolia, Casale, Johnson and the others.

I’ll have more after the hearing.

College rankings

fau
Photo by Alex Dolce

Each year, criticism surrounds the new college rankings by U.S. News. A professor at Columbia University argued this year that his employer didn’t deserve its higher undergraduate ranking from a year ago.

Nevertheless, people pay attention to the lists. Which is why Florida Atlantic University this week highlighted rankings for the school’s graduate programs.

U.S. News assesses grad programs in business, education, engineering, law, medicine and nursing. The rankings are based on surveys that were conducted last fall and early this year.

Not surprisingly, FAU’s well-regarded master’s program in nursing did best. It ranked 54th, two spots up from 2021. Social work, another FAU specialty, is 79th nationwide. The only other program to crack the top 100 was public affairs, which ranks 81st. Computer engineering came close, at 103rd.

FAU football schedule

fau football
Photo from fausports.com

Speaking of FAU, the football team finally is about to get its fall schedule.

Most college teams know their list of opponents. But FAU’s became uncertain when three teams in Conference USA—Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Mississippi— announced their intention to leave this year for the Sun Belt Conference, not next year as planned. FAU is leaving next year, to join the more financially lucrative American Athletic Conference.

FAU had been set to play all those teams. Their early departure became official this week after the conference had tried to block it. But 11 teams will remain in the conference, and FAU plays eight conference opponents. An FAU athletic department spokesman told me Wednesday that Conference USA will release a new schedule “soon.”

Boca City Council organizational meeting

Boca Raton didn’t hold an election this year, but the city council will hold an organizational meeting today as would happen after an election.

Council members will choose a vice mayor who would run regular meetings in Mayor Scott Singer’s absence and a chairman to run the community redevelopment agency meetings. That’s currently Monica Mayotte. I expect the council will keep her in that role.

Delray Beach has a similar session before Tuesday’s regular city commission meeting.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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