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Affordable housing groups want Florida lawmakers to keep their promise and avoid trust fund sweeps

houses line a street at sunset
Patricia Moynihan
WFSU Public Media
Home prices continue to soar in Florida.

Housing and rental prices continue to soar in Florida and wages are struggling to keep up. There are fewer and fewer options for affordable housing in the state. Groups like the Florida Housing Coalition are hoping lawmakers continue to put money designated for affordable housing into affordable housing. Yet legislative efforts around the issue are a mixed bag.

Jaimie Ross heads the Florida Housing Coalition which advocates for available and quality housing in the state. Ross is hoping Florida lawmakers do a repeat and put all the money that’s in the Sadowski affordable housing trust fund back into affordable housing. Last year, marked the first time in a decade that the money generated from home sales didn’t get swept into other priorities.

“The number one thing the legislature can do is keep the promise it made last legislative session to use all the state Sadowski Trust fund monies for housing," said Ross in an interview with WFSU.

This year, there is about $355 million in the trust fund.

Florida lawmakers are also considering varying proposals that could encourage developers to build more affordable housing. One Senate plan builds on a 2020 law that lets developers build on land they previously could not. This year's proposal, SB 962, would allow mixed-use developments to be built on property zoned residential, commercial, or industrial. It’s progress, says Ross, but not ideal.

“It would be a better bill if it defined affordable housing… and also have some minimum amount of housing…and also provided a minimum percentage of affordable housing that has to be put in. For example, 50% of the development could be for affordable housing.”

The bill also bans the use of money specifically designated for such projects from being used on the kind of projects the proposal is trying to encourage. Ross calls the ban on the SAIL program “befuddling.”

“I assume good intentions of the sponsor of the bill," she said, "I just don’t understand why there’s a prohibition on using the SAIL program since the SAIL program is a great program for producing affordable housing.”

SAIL provides government-backed grants to developers to encourage them to build affordable housing units.

The Florida Housing Coalition is also encouraging local governments to put more of their federal stimulus money into affordable housing. The average income of a Floridian, according to MIT, is about $31,000 a year. The price of a two-bedroom apartment ranges from a low of $750/month in Washington County to more than $1,700 in Monroe County where Key West is located. A common rule of thumb is that people shouldn’t spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent or a mortgage.

Last month, St. Petersberg city council members floated the idea of declaring a housing state of emergency to freeze rents for a year. The idea is still under consideration, but it could become moot if a planned “super-preemption” bill gets approval from lawmakers. The measure was recently before the Senate’s Community Affairs committee, where Florida Rising lobbyist Letitia Harmon said it could kill efforts like St. Pete’s.

“What if a large corporation feels affordable housing will encroach on their profits? They can sue the local government that was only trying to do what was right and lawful for their communities. We do know much of the real estate in Florida is owned by overseas companies who may have vacation properties, beachfront properties here," said Harmon.

"They’re going to be concerned about their bottom-line, not necessarily the welfare of the local residents which is the priority of the local government.”

The pre-emption bill would let businesses and individuals sue to block ordinances if those ordinances cause businesses to lose 15% of revenue or more.

There’s also another plan in the works. HB 1553 by Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon could stymie a key affordable housing funding program known as SHIP. That program provides grants to local governments that in turn help fund down-payment and closing cost assistance for low and moderate-income families to buy homes. SHIP also helps support emergency repairs and property rehabilitation. Plakon’s bill removes cities and counties from the process and consolidates it within the government-run Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Housing Coalition's Ross is watching developments closely.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.