GULFPORT, Fla. — Skyrocketing rent prices have been hitting Gulfport residents hard, which includes the former “Gecko Queen” who recently agreed to a more than $500 per month increase to stay in her home.

“It gives me another year to get prepared,” said Elizabeth Hendricks, 58, Gulfport Gecko Queen for 2021. “I just can’t imagine moving. I just love being here.” 

What You Need To Know

  • Gulfport resident Elizabeth Hendricks will pay $550 more in rent per month to stay in condo
  • In 7 years, Hendricks said her rent doubled from $1,000 to $2,000
  • Gulfport Realty said the city lost 70% of rental properties over the past couple of years

Hendricks said she moved from Canada to Gulfport 7 years ago because she really liked the community and it was affordable. 

“I came from Toronto and I’ve felt like I’ve come home,” she said. “It’s like a little Mayberry, where you can go downtown and you know all the shop owners and you bump into people on the street.”

Hendricks said at first the rent for her Town Shores condo was $1,000 per month. Slowly over time, the rent increased and she ended up paying $1,450 during this past year. 

The Gulfport woman said her lease was going to expire in October and the condo owner initially told her was going to sell.

“At least my landlord gave me 5 months notice that he was selling the place,” she said. “I had started to move because even though I had 5 months notice, I’ve accumulated a lot of things.” ​

Hendricks said a few weeks ago, her landlord agreed to let her stay if she paid an extra $550 per month in rent. The hike brings the monthly rent total to $2,000, exactly double the price from when she first moved in.

“I want to stay here. I just love it and I’m hoping to buy within the complex,” she said. “$550 is a huge amount, but I’m doing it because that is what we’d have to pay to go anywhere else.”

Hendricks said she works part time in public relations, but because of rising costs, has begun looking for a full-time job.

The owner and broker of Gulfport Realty, Stacey Purcell, said in the past than two years the city has lost 70 percent of rentals to homeowners buying properties. Purcell said there may finally be some relief on the horizon.

“House prices are starting to decline somewhat,” she said. “So, I predict rent prices will come down a little bit.”

Purcell said another good sign is that her office is not getting as many calls as they were before from renters who have been displaced because the owner is selling. 

Hendricks said she’s concerned the high prices are changing the fabric of the community.

“I worry that the artists and the volunteers that made this community are all being pushed out,” she said. “People with a lot of money are coming in.”​

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