tampabay.com

State of fear makes you want to sniff gardenias

By Times editorial
Published May 6, 2007


The pioneers who settled Florida were a tough bunch. They had to brave mosquitoes, snakes, bears in the woods, heat, humidity, disease and isolation.

They didn't know nuthin'. Living in Florida in 2007 is really scary.

Are you tough enough for it?

Today's Floridians are enduring a boatload of fearsome problems, any one of which would make some people anxious.

Think about it.

Hurricane season is less than four weeks away, and the scientists who study these things say they see indicators that this season could be a bad one.

Because of past hurricanes, homeowners insurance rates have soared so high that some people are going uninsured. Or their insurance companies have canceled them, so they must pray that the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will have enough money to cover their losses if a storm hits.

Some Floridians - mostly those who own businesses or second homes here - are facing big property tax bills because property values escalated so much in the past several years and those properties aren't protected by the Save Our Homes cap.

The double whammy of rising taxes and soaring property insurance has driven the cost of owning a home so high that many have been forced to put their homes on the market - just as the housing market went cold, buyers disappeared and home prices began to plummet. Those who can't find a buyer or some way to continue to pay their mortgage face foreclosure. Florida is now one of the top states for foreclosures.

Oh well, if you can't afford home ownership anymore, you can just rent, right? The trouble is that rents are escalating - a two-bedroom unit costs more in rent than some people's mortgages - because landlords face those same high insurance and tax bills and because a fair percentage of Tampa Bay area apartments converted to condominiums during the late, great condominium boom.

Well, if you can't pay market rents, you can probably qualify for a local government's affordable housing program or get a federal Section 8 housing voucher.

Uh-oh. Those affordable housing programs might not be around much longer. The Florida Legislature is preparing to force local governments to cut their tax revenue collections - legislators call it tax reform - and city and county governments say they will have no choice but to chop expenditures for nonessentials such as recreation and arts and yes, even affordable housing programs. And those Section 8 vouchers? Well, the feds still hand them out, but the waiting list for an apartment is so long that you could wind up homeless before you land one.

Not to worry, there's a nice tent city in St. Petersburg. Oh, wait, that's gone too.

I've changed my mind. Let's not think about it.

Instead, let's focus on this: It's springtime in Florida. The jacaranda and bottlebrush trees are blooming. The trees are full of birds. The sun is warm, palm trees are framed against a bright blue sky, and you can slip more than a toe into the Gulf of Mexico without shivering. The parks are full of picnicking families, boats are plying the waterways, and the soccer and baseball fields are covered with sweaty children playing their hearts out.

In my front yard, the gardenia bush I could never get to bloom has exploded with creamy white blossoms so numerous that the leaves of the plant seem to have disappeared. And the fragrance is out of this world.

Yes, in Florida our problems are many, but we still enjoy abundant gifts.

Diane Steinle can be reached at steinle@sptimes.com.