Housing Advocates Worry About Market, Push For Full Funding Of State And Local Programs

Jan 7, 2016

Credit WFSUNews

Home sales are rising across Florida and so is the cost of rent. Many Floridians are stuck somewhere in the middle. Now a coalition of housing advocates are calling on the state legislature to steer more money into housing programs. For years the state’s housing trust fund has been used elsewhere.

In Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city, signs of growth are everywhere. New high rise condos catering to college students have popped up, boasting rents in the four-figures. It’s hard to find a one bedroom in a decent neighborhood for less than $800. A number of Tallahassee residents are slowly being priced out.

“The place we fall down the worst is low-income households," says former Tallahassee Mayor Dot Inman Johnson. "Many of those households are single-parent headed households with one salary coming into the home, and most of the time it’s a minimum wage salary and not even full-time.”

Current city Mayor Andrew Gillum agrees. He says the city’s housing inventory is converting, with traditional college areas slowly emptying out as students move closer to town for the new condos. But it’s not happening at a pace that can meet the growing demand for affordable rental spaces:

“These issues of housing and housing accessibility are manifold. It’s rarely ever about the available units themselves, it’s about people’s ability to afford what’s out there as well," he said.

It's a similar situation in Tampa.

“In our community we’ve been recovering from the foreclosure crisis which caused many people to lose their homes. As we’ve been recovering, we’ve taken a new hit. The hit of prosperity," said Vanessa McCleary,  ,Manager of Housing and Community Development for the City of Tampa.  The recession pushed millions of people out of homeownership into renter status.

“We have lots of folks coming to our area, buying up our houses and our rental units are going up in price.”

Last year, Florida lawmakers steered around $175 million into local and state housing programs that support down payment and rental assistance, home renovations for low-income Floridians, and the construction of affordable housing units. But they also took $80 million from the trust and put it into other areas of the budget. Florida Housing Coalition President Jaimie Ross says its time the Florida legislature stopped sweeping dollars from its housing trust fund, the Sadowski Trust.  

“Not saying no matter what, that’s the way it should be, but if you have a housing crisis, and you know these programs are great, and you know it’s wonderful for the economy, that’s how it should be. Whatever is the amount of money that’s collected for the trust funds, that’s how much money should be appropriated.”

Florida Realtors, Home builders, local social service agencies and the Florida Housing coalition are all urging the legislature to put the entire $324 million in the Sadowski Trust toward housing initiatives. They says the sweeps are no longer necessary since the state has a projected budget surplus. But state economists are now using trust fund revenues in their budget projections.