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Pooley: Escambia & Santa Rosa Show Rise In Renter Occupied Housing Units

Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
he Edge apartments on University Pkwy Friday July 7, 2017 in north Pensacola, Florida.

Housing market data for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties over the past decade show an increase in the total number of housing units in the two counties, with a growing number of those units occupied by renters and not owners. Phyllis Pooley, director of special projects with the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement, reviewed data from the U.S. Census and the Shimberg Center for Housing Studiesand found that there are significant changes in the housing market for the two counties. She discussed her observations with WUWF’s Sandra Averhart.

“What we found first was that both counties saw a reduction in owner-occupied housing units,” Pooley said. “Escambia saw decreases in owner-occupied units across the board from every age range, up to age 54. Santa Rosa only saw decrease in the 35 to 44-year-old range.”


Pooley said that the difference is due to aging in Santa Rosa County, as baby boomers get older and move out of that age range. In Escambia, the difference is more substantial.

“In Escambia, we really think it is a fundamental shift in the number of people buying homes there,” Pooley said.

Both counties saw more renters rather than home buyers, particularly in the home-buying age of 25 to 34-years old, as well as in the retirement age population of 60 to 70-year-olds.

“This area has traditionally been thought of as a place where you bought houses, particularly Santa Rosa County because of the difference between the suburban and urban lifestyles,” Pooley said. “The fact that there were increases in renters in both those populations suggests potentially affordability issues, lifestyle decisions – particularly for the retiree population – and potentially some other factors that are making people either want to rent or have to rent.”

Looking at cost, Pooley said that costs decreased in both counties after the housing bubble burst, and while prices have been climbing, they remain below the height of the market in 2005. As for renting, it’s a different story for the two counties.

“The cost of renting has gone up significantly in Escambia County in particular,” she said. “In Santa Rosa County, the rents have remained relatively stable.”

Pooley said that these higher rates have hit the younger and older renters the hardest.

“The young adults are now having to pay significantly more of their incomes in rent than they did before, and retirees the same,” she said. “Those are the two ends of the spectrum where your earning power is going to be the lowest that it is in your lifetime. The fact that those two segments are now paying 30 to 35 percent and getting into the trouble area of housing costs suggests that the rents are definitely escalating in Escambia County.”

Pooley said there are several reasons this increases could be happening.

“Some of it may have to do with the residuals from the housing bubble. There were a lot of people that had houses foreclosed upon. Just the first of them, if they had to go bankrupt, are getting out of that bankruptcy period where their credit is improving,” Pooley said. “The lending on mortgages is still fairly strict. That has not decreased over time, and so there is a segment of the market that is still going to have trouble.”

Younger people may also have other kinds of debt, such as student loans, that may delay their entry into the ownership market, Pooley said, while retirees may be on a fixed income.

“Those two are the most vulnerable populations,” she said. “Conversely, with retirees, they may have decided they just don’t want those costs associated with home ownership, so they may be choosing to rent rather than being forced to rent.”

Looking at population projections from 2015 to 2035, Santa Rosa is expected to grow by nearly 34 percent, far outpacing Escambia’s projected rate of eight percent.

“The interesting part is that the adult population (20 and over) is going to grow at a faster rate than the total population rate in Santa Rosa, and the reverse is true in Escambia,” she said. “Because population is forecast based on births, deaths and migration, in Escambia County it suggests the population is going to grow by births. In Santa Rosa, it suggests a segment of this population growth is going to be driven by adults moving into this area.”

That will mean new demand for housing more quickly in Santa Rosa, and if supply doesn’t keep up, the result can be an increase both in the cost of purchasing and renting housing, Pooley said.

CREO staff writer Mike Ensley contributed to this report. He can be reached at kensley@uwf.edu.

This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.
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