Introducing WMFE's new housing and homelessness reporter
Issues of housing and homelessness are a growing concern here in Central Florida. Just this month, WalletHub reported Orlando to be one of the worst U.S. cities for renters and affordability. Florida is also home to the third largest unhoused population in the country, trailing just behind California and New York.
WMFE is invested in covering issues of housing and homelessness, and in partnership with Report for America, has hired a beat reporter to cover housing and homelessness.
Her name is Lillian Hernández Caraballo — though she likes to go by Lilly. We welcome her.
Q.1. You graduated UCF as a print and digital reporter. How did you get into public radio?
A.1. "I've always been an avid listener of NPR, a supporter of public stations, so going into journalism, I always knew I was going to end up in public media. I just feel it best represents the voices of the people, and I've always seen journalism as a bit of a public service in a way, if that makes sense.
"So, to go from print and digital to radio, however, that was born when I was chosen to do NPR's Next Generation Radio program, where they teach you how to put a radio story together to air that week. And I fell in love with the process — the recording, the gadgets, the buttons, just audio in general.
The interest was furthered by my internship. Faithful listeners might remember my short stint with WMFE in the spring semester of 2021. It was a lot of fun working with you guys! I believe in the WMFE mission, and I just could not wait to get back."
Q.2. Why are you passionate about this beat in particular?
A.2. "Ever since joining journalism, I always saw myself doing stories of economic social, racial, and environmental justice. They're just themes that have defined my generation, so I just feel I'm more adept reporting on those topics. And housing really falls neatly right under the intersectional umbrella of these discussions.
"Then, also, just in my personal life, as a child, there was a time when housing wasn't stable. And later, as a young mother of color, I navigated poverty wages and skyrocketing rents and prices, as I moved around and stayed with family members and friends with my child. So, I navigated the housing and homelessness crisis I'm covering, and I feel I represent the demographic on which I'm reporting, which just felt like a really solid fit for me."
Q.3. It's early days in this position, but what have you been learning here so far?
A.3. "A lot, actually. It's been a growing situation for decades, but it's gotten progressively worse since the pandemic. In Orlando, rent prices have gone up by 45%, whereas wages have remained virtually stagnant. So, when you're charging so much more than you were, yet paying the same, it's causing these people to become on housed. In fact, the shelters and the centers and resource places I've been speaking with, the staff there says that the people who are coming to them for help, 75% of them are experiencing homelessness for their very first time.
"Since before the pandemic, homelessness numbers have gone up by 75%; 38% in the last year alone. And everyone I speak to, from advocates to economists, all say, the housing market in Florida has failed. And I'm eager to get the stories out that reflect this."
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.