Poll: Affordable states tempting to Floridians

Published October 27, 2006

Cheri Riznyk arrived in St. Petersburg three years ago with her husband and their now 5-year-old daughter, hopeful that they soon would realize the American dream.

But skyrocketing housing prices, homeowners insurance and property taxes have all but dashed their hopes. They're looking to leave the state in about a year.

"It doesn't even look possible to buy a place now," said the 44-year-old Riznyk.

The couple, now renting a one-bedroom garage apartment in the city's Old Northeast, is among the 1-in-3 Floridians who said in a newly released poll they have seriously considered moving out of the Sunshine State because of rising property taxes and insurance.

The statewide telephone survey of 800 voters was conducted for the St. Petersburg Times by Schroth/Eldon & Associates from Oct. 22 to Oct. 25. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.

The poll highlights the angst over the rising cost of living. Skyrocketing property taxes prompted a tax revolt in the summer, and homeowners insurance costs led to protest organizations that are demanding lower rates.

Some homeowners have threatened to take their anger out on incumbents at the polls Nov. 7.

"There are just all sorts of reasons why people leave," said Stanley K. Smith, director of the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "Dissatisfaction is certainly a reason."

But Smith said a lack of data makes it difficult to compare the current level of anxiety against other years.

"What you don't know is whether that has gone up over time or not," he said. "People may often give that as a response at one point in time , but not really plan to act on that."

That's not the case for Riznyk. She sees no other way for her family to afford a home.

"We pretty much do plan to leave here in another a year or so," said Riznyk, who now is eyeing Portland, Ore.

Margaret Norman, 70, of Tampa also wants to leave. She and her husband have been retired since the 1980s and are continually hit hard by higher costs, particularly the homeowners insurance and property taxes.

"I think they are too high," said Norman, who has lived in Florida for 60 years. "If anything happened to my husband, I don't think I could make it."

Even for those who can afford a house, the rising costs are eating away at the rest of their income.

James Kelly arrived in Florida as child in 1953. The 58-year-old Hollywood resident is a former thoroughbred horse racing jockey who now works as a stone mason.

Kelly owns two houses in South Florida but is considering moving to Tennessee, where he just bought a home, because taxes and insurances are eating away at his money. He has a 15-year-old son to put through college, and he thinks Florida living is chipping away at everything he has acquired.

"The price of living down here and the land is going up tremendously," Kelly said. "Florida is getting just like California. ... It seems too hectic and a lot of money."

Many Floridians have moved to the Crossville and Pikeville areas of Tennessee, about 80 minutes north of Chattanooga, where a single-family home on 5 acres runs for about $120,000.

"I think the driving force to that whole thing is it doesn't cost as much to live there," he said.

Ivan Penn covers consumer affairs issues and can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or 727-892-2332.