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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

A study finds rent in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area is among highest in the country

Sarasota skyline with high-rise, roadway and waterfront
City of Sarasota
To determine the locations with the most expensive rent, researchers calculated the median monthly rent across all unit sizes in each location.

Online real estate data company Stessa reviewed statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

A report found that with a median rent of $1,588 a month, the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area is the 14th most expensive for a mid-size population in the country.

The national average of median rent came in at $1,435, according to the Stessa study.

Linda Harradine, CEO of Legal Aid of Manasota — which assists clients with housing issues — says the results are not surprising.

"We've seen this pattern over the last few years but I will say, in the last year it has become extremely pronounced,” she said. “In the last six months, it’s really dumbfounding how many people are contacting us.”

Harradine said many of the new inquiries are from people calling about sharp increases in their monthly rent.

“We're getting calls more recently, with people saying, ‘my landlord is raising my rent by $500. He can't do that, or she can't do that. And our reply is yes, they can, and there's nothing legally to prevent them from doing that. The stories are absolutely sad on so many levels. But unfortunately, it's not a legal issue with a legal remedy,” she said.

‘We are also getting a lot of calls about non-renewals of leases," Harradine added. "A lot of landlords at this point are saying, ‘you know what, I'm not going to renew your lease. It doesn't matter that you're in compliance. You've been a good tenant, you've been paying, but I think I can get more money for it’, or they want to sell their house because the value of the real estate has gone up so much.”

According to the Stessa report, recent increases in rent are in part due to rising home prices, which have priced many would-be buyers out of the market, which raises demand for rental properties.

But Chelsea Wait with Gulfcoast Legal Servicessays there are services available to help.

"If you're a community member and you think you need emergency rental assistance but you're having trouble figuring out how to apply, or if you don't have internet, or if you’re not sure what documents you need, you can call our offices or come visit us in person and somebody on staff will help you figure out how to do that and walk you through the process,” she said.

Wait said the nonprofit legal organization can also help tenants who are behind on rent navigatethe eviction process.

“We always tell people to reach out to us before they get an eviction notice, that’s the best time for us to help you,” Wait said.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.