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Some Worry A Plan To Give More People Housing Assistance Will Hurt The Lowest Income Earners

An overhead shot of a neighborhood filled with houses.
Photo by Breno Assis

Florida lawmakers are considering a change they hope will make the state’s affordable housing dollars go further.

Affordable housing is a growing concern in the state of Florida as the cost to buy or rent a home is climbing, but wages for the average worker aren’t keeping pace. Rep. Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksoville) wants local governments to develop a strategy to help stretch those dollars as part of the criteria for people applying for down payment assistance through an affordable housing program called SHIP.

During a recent meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee he amended a larger bill on affordable housing to make the change.

“This amendment would provide that the selection criteria must give priority to applicants who need less assistance so as to maximize the total number of applicants that can receive an award under SHIP so basically it would allow the awards to go further,” Yarborough said.

Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) worked with Yarborough on the proposal. He said in his district, the available affordable housing money often runs out before the end of the year.

“I’ve seen this, where local housing authorities are giving out too much money to some applicants. There are awards of $12,500 for down payment, $15,000 for down payment, where under FHA guidelines all you need is 3.5% So if you’re giving 3.5% of a $150,000 house, that’s a lot less money than giving somebody an award of $15,000,” Ingoglia said.

Ingoglia said keeping those dollar amounts lower means more people can get help buying a house.

So if you’re only giving $7,500 for down payment assistance and you can get a family into a new home, well then you have another $7,500 to help another family. So we want them to pick a strategy where they’re not giving too much down payment or too much assistance to make the money last longer and help more home owners,” Ingoglia said.

But Rep. Dianne Hart (D-Tampa) says she has concerns about the move. She says the focus should be on helping people who have the greatest need.

“The folk we really need to help, who cannot afford rents, because rents are eating up over 60% of the average person’s income, they may very well need that 15,000. We need to be helping those people who are a little closer to the bottom. Because the folk who are up here, they can afford to pay their rent maybe another 12 months. The folks who are down here cannot because our rents in Hillsborough County and our housing prices are about 230,000 for the average new home,” Hard said.

Despite concerns, the amendment passed. Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Fort Myers) says she hopes the bill will create more structure that could help sway lawmakers to sweep less money from the state’s affordable housing trust fund.

“I hope that we’ll be able to continue in the legislature to continue to have new innovative ideas to meet that need and I also hope that if successes happen as a result of this piece of legislation that going forward we’ll be able to have more of the funds to be able to apply to this problem rather than sweep them into the general fund. Because I do think this is so important but it needs parameters to work," Fitzengagen said.

Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed for fully funding Florida’s two affordable housing programs, but House budget would sweep some of those funds for other purposes.


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Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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