Hope in Our Community

Posted on July 7, 2022

Martin County, like many communities across the state and the nation, is experiencing a housing crisis. There is no other way to describe it. Rents and purchase prices are skyrocketing. There is a serious shortage of inventory, especially in the rental market for lower wage earners.

But this crisis reaches deep into our middle class as well. Nearly 50% of our community live paycheck to paycheck. Many people have been forced to relocate because they are priced out of the housing market. This will make it even more difficult for employers to fill open positions at their businesses. The number of people experiencing homelessness or couch surfing- moving from one friend or relative to another, with no permanent place to call home- continues to rise.

However, a recent meeting left me feeling optimistic that Martin County is finally ready to take on the housing crisis in a meaningful way.  On June 6th, there was a joint meeting of our local elected boards, including the Martin County Commission, City of Stuart Commission, Village Council of Indiantown, and the Martin County School Board. The meeting was held at the Blake Library, and it was a packed house.

Public Comment was filled with a variety of community leaders from the non-profit and business community, as well as individuals who shared their personal stories that show just how far reaching and troubling this issue is for so many people. Most of the attendees were there to hear one particular item on the agenda, the discussion on the housing crisis.

County Commissioner Ed Ciampi took the lead in getting this issue on the agenda. He presented his “Starfish Initiative,” aptly named for the Starfish Parable, an inspirational story of hope that anyone who is not familiar with should definitely Google.

Commissioner Ciampi shared recent headlines highlighting the severity of the housing crisis locally, including one that screamed “Martin, St. Lucie ranked 5th most overvalued rental market in the U.S.” He presented the need for government, schools, non-profits, religious organizations, charitable foundations, and other groups to all work together to plan, fund and execute real housing solutions. Some projects may help one or two families, others may be larger and help sixty families, but all will be needed.

The recommendations presented to the elected boards would add many tools to the toolboxes of our local governments as they work to solve our housing problems, such as:

  • Create a board with a dedicated staff, clear direction, and a dedicated funding source.
  • Create a local flagship residential project.
  • Communicate with organizations already achieving success in this arena.
  • Review and revise LDR’s, zoning and policies to encourage appropriate projects.

There was positive dialogue among the officials, especially from the City of Stuart, as they outlined some accomplishments and goals the city has to provide solutions. I was also encouraged by the desire of many of the officials to make this topic a permanent part of their meeting agenda so they may track progress and support new initiatives.

While this was a great start, there is much work to be done. If we want real solutions that provide an opportunity for everyone in our community to live safely, peacefully, and with dignity, we must keep the pressure on our elected officials and do our part to create lasting change.

I hope that the next time I write on this topic, it is to share stories of real progress and success that positively impact our friends and neighbors.