The Struggle for Stability: South Florida college students navigate costly rental market while balancing multiple jobs and classes

The high demand for housing in South Florida is taking a toll on college students. Karla Bendles, a senior at Florida International University, was forced to move out of her one-bedroom apartment in Boca Raton and move back in with her mother in North Miami.

Bendles paid $1,800 a month for her 684-square-foot apartment for nearly two years. The money she earned from working multiple jobs went straight to her rent and not much was left to buy food or pay the bills.

“There should be accommodations for students to have affordable rent, especially now because I cannot go to school and work,” Bendles said. 

Before moving to Miami, Bendles received an Associate Degree in film production from the University of Florida. She paid as low as $400 a month for a room with utilities included in Gainesville. Bendles was faced with a rent nearly five times as much, not including utilities, when she moved back to South Florida. Bendles eventually took a year off from college to save money and financially support herself. 

“I don’t know how people are surviving. You need multiple strings of income, one job you just can’t,” Bendles said. 

According to a National Rent Report from November, Miami is one of the most expensive rental markets in the country. Miami fell in fifth place, just behind New York, New Jersey, Boston and San Francisco. The report shows the medium rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Miami is $2,600. A person needs to make a $100,000 salary to avoid being classified rent burdened, according to a report by Florida Atlantic University. The report considers people who are rent-burdened if they spend 30% or more of their income on rent and struggle to pay for other necessities. Those who spend more than 50% or more are considered severely rent-burdened.

Lizzie Suarez, a communication manager at the Miami Workers Center, says the average median income for families in Miami-Dade County is $54,000 a year. Suarez notes some of the key factors contributing to the housing crisis are the lack of housing for multi-family units, affordability for the vast majority of people, and protections for tenants who are often pushed out of their homes.

“This housing crisis has been decades in the making through systems of policies, infrastructure, and relationships that actually put profit over people,” Suarez said. 

Democratic Rep., Jervonte Edmonds, from West Palm Beach is on a mission to fight for housing affordability. He proposed HB 41, a bill that would create a grant program to help Floridians pay for their mortgages and insurance. The bill would provide grants of up to $2,500 per household to help with mortgage payments, homeowners insurance, and motor vehicle insurance.

“The biggest issue we have in the state of Florida, at least South Florida, is there is no availability to build on things. There is not a lot of space, there is not a lot of land for sale. Finding different options and tools to build the supply is going to bring the prices down,” Rep. Edmonds said. 

Many other students face the challenge of balancing several jobs and classes to stay afloat both financially and academically. Genai Witter, a graduate who studied political science at Florida International University, worked three jobs online while in college. Witter worked over 13 hours each day and was forced to focus more on her jobs to pay the bills than her academic studies. 

“It just really burnt me out and I didn’t have any time to live any sort of life other than work and school,” Witter said. 

Witter says at some point she only had $5 left in her bank account after paying over $1,300 in rent. Witter took over $40,000 in loans to pay for other basic necessities such as gas, food, and personal care. Witter says she suffered from anxiety and even skipped meals.

“As hard as it was, I knew what I had to do and I sucked it up and tried as hard as possible to get through it and I did,” Witter said. 

Matthew Saneholtz, President and Chief Investment Officer at Tobias Financial Advisors, has experience navigating the college experience. Saneholtz says he took out student loans during college and understands the long-term impacts it can have on students. As of the first quarter of 2023, student loan debt in the United States stands at a total of over $1.77 trillion, according to Federal Student Aid. A big part of those loans students take out factors in housing. Saneholtz says weighing the pros and cons on whether to live on campus or off campus is a major decision when it comes to money.

“Living off campus might be a little more affordable, but there could be extra costs that you may not even think about as you’re making a decision, such as transportation to and from school, gas costs, and anything along the lines of extra insurance on your car,” Saneholtz said.

In Miami-Dade County, the Miami Workers Center is working on an eviction diversion program. It aims to increase the number of lawyers available to tenants during the process. Suarez says less than 2% have access to counsel. Her goal is to spread the word about the rights people have when it comes to housing. 

Ultimately, Suarez believes the change has to come from lawmakers in Tallahassee who have the power to vote on housing legislation.

Cassandra Alonso is a senior TV and multimedia production student at Florida International University. She is well-versed in all areas of media and has been interested in it since she was young. She has worked on editing high school yearbooks and has a strong passion for writing, editing, photography, and social media. She creates her own content online and has enjoyed networking within FIU. She looks forward to taking leadership roles and loves working with other people. Her goal is to indulge in all aspects of the TV production industry, create her own productions, and expand her interests further.

Avonte McDonald is a journalist at Florida International University who has an interest in graphic design. McDonald’s passion for journalism started at a young age watching their mother be a journalist in Jamaica. McDonald plans to pursue a career where they can incorporate 3D modeling, motion graphics, game art and design in his work.

Kaylin Linder is a senior broadcasting journalism student at Florida International University. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in digital journalism. She has been in love with Journalism since the eighth grade and started to hone in on her love for writing in her freshman year of high school. She enjoys reading and watching anything that deals with true crime because she loves how reporters never forget who the victims were and what they meant to their loved ones. After graduating, Kaylin looks forward to reporting about injustices going on in the United States.