At a time when the FBI is scrutinizing Tallahassee’s community redevelopment agency, state lawmakers want to reform the groups across Florida. The FBI is currently looking into any wrongdoing stemming from development deals by Tallahassee’s CRA. But the capital city’s agency is not the only one suspected of misusing public money meant to combat blight and slums.
Senator Tom Lee of Brandon blames past legislatures, which expanded CRAs’ spending authority.
“This legislature made a grave mistake, years ago, when it took what was originally designed to help improve the conditions in slum and blighted areas in our state and expanded it for a use of exhaustive purposes, many of which have done nothing to improve the areas which this money was designed to improve,” Lee said.
With more leeway to allocate money, some CRAs took to funding temporary functions like festivals and events, which critics say don't directly improve issues of slum, blight, and a lack of affordable housing. Some CRAs went as far as using the funds for local officials' pet projects. Lee says this sort of spending is frivolous and ineffective.
“It is a crime that the money that was designed to be spent to help these impoverished individuals living in these areas is being siphoned off for excess overhead, administrative expenses, and for festivals and parades and fireworks demonstrations and parties,” Lee said.
Lee is sponsoring a bill that would roll out new auditing and reporting rules for CRAs, limit their spending authority and tighten the contracting process. Unlike proposals in past years, Lee’s plan would not phase out the agencies. The bill passed its first committee stop Tuesday.