ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. – Darryl Riddle went from living comfortably as a single 32-year-old to stuffed in a two-bedroom condo after social workers dropped off his niece and her three siblings who were in foster care about a year and half ago.
Since then, the family of five, including four children -- all under the age of 11 -- have crammed into a two-bedroom condo in Altamonte Springs and the new adoptive father is struggling to find affordable housing in Central Florida.
"I didn't plan to have four kids, so it's really hard to stay focused and know that I am doing the best that I can, it's just the rental market gets me," Riddle said.
Riddle, who works as a hotel booking manager, makes $15 an hour and says after taxes, he brings in about $2,100 a month. That means more than 50% of his monthly income is going to rent.
According to a recent study by the Orlando Economic Partnership, “The most recent data shows that the fair market rate for a two-bedroom rental in the region is $982 per month. This is 14 percent more expensive than the average renter can afford and 124 percent more expensive than a minimum wage earner ($8.46/hour) can afford.”
Many counties in Central Florida define affordable housing as a person not spending more than 30% on their monthly income on rent.
“I pay $1,100 in rent,” Riddle said. “Mind boggling.”
For food, Riddle said he does get assistance. So for dinner on a Wednesday night, he prepared a Puerto Rican chicken stew, known as pollo guisado.
“I’ll either have prepared it over the weekend, or sometimes we would do like $5 pizzas,” he said.
Shortly, after plating the food for the four kids -- ages 11, 8,6 and 5 -- he unfolded a small card table and set it up in the tiny kitchen.
Upstairs, the children sleep in four bunk-beds, each one decorated with Moana sheets, stickers and stuffed animals to make it their own.
“I want my own bed because they always in the middle of the night, they come in and get in my bed,” said the eldest, 11-year old Makayla.
Most nights, to give the older two girls privacy, Riddle sleeps on the couch.
"That's why it's sinking," he said.
Riddle said he’s looked at and applied for about 25 apartments in the past year and half and because of old hospital bills, he admits he doesn’t have good credit. Because of that, he said he’s been denied at every single one.
During that process, he’s also spent hundreds on application fees for those apartments.
“I’ve spent over $700 in the past year and half and have been denied for every single application,” Riddle said. “I was shocked, $15-1,600 for three bedrooms in really bad neighborhoods, everybody running your credit, not only that there is an application fee on top of another fee, on top of another fee.”
Riddle is now running out of options and going into debt because of the lack of affordable housing in Central Florida.
“I break down a lot,” Riddle said. “I try everything, like I am going to pawn the TV, I’m going to pawn the laptop. Do things just to make sure that we are going to be OK.”
No matter what, he said he has to stay strong for the children.
“I never let them see it because they love it, they love having a home,” he said.