As I have for the last several years, I am writing my mid-August column from Orlando, site of the annual Florida Realtors convention. Election years are (or can be) a time when we should not just reflect on the past, but consider the kind of future we want to have – not just in South Florida generally, but in the real estate and related industries specifically.
I believe there are larger, more strategic issues at play in Florida this cycle. Consistent with my focus in the next few months on community and resilience, I would argue that it is less important to focus on where we have been and where we are, and think instead about where we should be headed – regardless of who is in office at present.
Let me give you examples of issues that sit right at the intersection of real estate and politics.
1. Workforce and educational resiliency. What is the status and quality of (particularly) our elementary and secondary education system in South Florida? Are we graduating young people ready for the STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) jobs of the future – people who will be able to afford the high cost of living and housing we have here?
Well we know part of that answer from, of all places, Amazon Corp. Of the 20 places they are considering for their “HQ2” site, the Miami/Fort Lauderdale metro area ranked dead last for a workforce with the skill sets that would meet their mid-21st century needs. That’s not good for corporate relocations or property values.
What ideas do the politicians have to help remedy this?
2. Diversity. Roughly 40 percent of Broward residents speak a language other than English when at home. Also, the number of residents here who were born outside the United States, and the LGBT community, continue to grow in size. What specific plans do the politicians have to ensure that our communities are welcoming to everyone – especially regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression?
3. Quality of life issues, particularly transportation. Amazon also ranked our metro area last when it came to commuting times and availability of robust public transportation. Even in the five years I have lived here, I have noted a marked increase in traffic and congestion, and not just during high season. Have the politicians noticed this? What are their thoughts about ameliorating this situation?
4. Environmental and water policy issues. If you haven’t noticed the environmental disasters unfolding out of Lake Okeechobee this summer, you have probably been watching too many Real Housewives reruns or spending too much time at two-for-one happy hour. Yet another issue where politicians point fingers at one another in lieu of taking action.
Who is willing to step up and lead, hard as that may be, and risk political consequences? You can probably bet against incumbents on that score, as none of them have taken the risk of alienating key financial backers and various political action committees.
And every day we get closer to the King Tides and the fullest brunt of the Atlantic storm season. What ideas are out there to reduce damage to our shoreline areas – more than just kicking the flood insurance issue down the road past the next election? (Bear in mind, of course, that politicians love the kinds of programs that are “about to expire”. This gives them a chance to shake money out of people desirous of continuing the Bubble Machine for a little more time.)
It is easy to “pick the winners”, which in nearly every case means backing incumbents and accepting the status quo. I say, to improve the resiliency and strength of our communities, and to foster a healthy and robust real estate market, we have got to be more visionary. Otherwise, we run this risk that this state, and the lifestyle we all hold dear, just becomes concrete, flooded land and Disney. Maybe some are fine with that outcome. I am betting many of you are not.by