Housing crisis part 1: examining the housing situation

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It's been nearly a year since Hurricane Michael, and though the storm is gone, some are still paying the price.

In the first part of a three-part series, we examine the local housing crisis and speak to both locals and experts to get their take on what the future has in store. (MGN)

Local resident Katilyn Richardson said, "They're upping their rent--monthly rent, weekly rent."

The cost of living is high and many say they can't find an affordable place to call home.

"Everyone had to find a new place after, you know, like half the homes got destroyed so everything's filling up. It's just hard to find a place and everything is doubled in rent now so it's just difficult," said area local Molly Newman.

According to move.org, rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Memphis, Tennessee is about $900. In Atlanta, Georgia about $1,500 and in Miami about $1,800. We took the average of three newer complexes in Panama City Beach and a one-bedroom there. It's about $1,300.

Local realtors Bubba McCants and Don Cooley say it will probably get worse before it gets better.

"Just for the simple fact that the prices are gonna be increasing throughout Bay County so there's been a lot of problems with people maybe [they] haven't gotten their insurance money, they can't afford to buy a place, they can't hardly afford the rental prices. So we've seen a lot of that and they've had to move out of the area," said Cooley.

Still, they both believe these high prices are symptoms of real-estate economics.

McCants said, "Well, the inventory shrunk quite a bit, obviously, after the storm which, you know, supply and demand typically drives the prices one way or the other and with the lower supply-demand is up, prices typically follow up."

But do the high prices go beyond supply and demand?

Newman said, "It definitely was price-gouging."

"They're taking advantage of the situation in the price market," said Richardson.

The Florida Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division has several active price-gouging investigations in the Bay County area.

Under Florida's price-gouging statute, it is unlawful during a declared state of emergency to sell, lease, offer to sell, or offer for lease essential commodities like dwelling units for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency... unless the seller can justify the pricing.

The state's Attorney General created an app called "No Scam". It's meant for people to easily report price-gouging during a declared state of emergency by attaching pictures, copies of receipts, and more directly from their smartphones.

Attorney General Ashley Moody sent us a statement saying, “It is our hope that this new app will assist us in raising awareness about price gouging laws and deter those who might otherwise consider violating the law, while at the same time help our consumer protection investigators get the reports and supporting information they need in real-time, so they can respond immediately to thwart any alleged illegal activity.”

We asked McCants and Cooley where they see the local real estate market in the future.

"Definitely within the next twelve months we're gonna see an increase in rental properties on the market and a decrease in the prices," said Cooley.

McCants added, "And we do think it's gonna get better every day--we've seen it get better. I live in The Cove. A lot of the houses that were beat up in The Cove have been bought and they've either been, you know, flipped, turned into nice rentals, updated."

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