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Florida Realtors Ballot Initiative Raises Ire Of State Leaders

Home For Sale Real Estate Sign in Front of Beautiful New House.
Andy Dean Photography
Home For Sale Real Estate Sign in Front of Beautiful New House.

Florida Realtors has launched a major political campaign to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot next year. It’s designed to prevent future legislatures from raiding a state housing trust fund for other expenses. The effort is already highly controversial with the state’s political leaders.

The Realtors have quickly raised $13 million in support of a 2022 ballot proposal to protect housing dollars from future sweeps or "raids" by the Florida Legislature. But the likely next Senate president is furious about it.

"I am taking it personally," says Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. Passidomo, a real estate lawyer, says she was blindsided by the Realtors' strategy.

"I was taken aback and by surprise when this initiative popped out because they didn't reach out to me," she says. "I said, 'why didn't you reach out to me, and one of them looked and me and said, 'Because you don't listen.' I was speechless."

The Realtors issued a statement saying, "This is not a partisan issue. It is a housing issue. We believe this initiative is in the best interest of all Floridians."

Because the proposal would give constitutional protection to a funding formula that favors the purchase of homes over rent subsidies for people who can't afford to buy, Passidomo suggests the motivation is mostly about money.

"I don't want to question the motives of the Realtors. I really don't," says Passidomo. “But many of my colleagues are saying the reason they are doing this is they get commissions out of all of the sales. That's why they're doing it."

Passidomo wasn't the only one caught by surprise by the Realtors' initiative. So were others in the housing field, such as Mark Hendrickson of the Florida Association of Local Housing Finance Authorities.

"The amendment mandates that 65% of all the money go to home purchases. So it's a very big reach in this amendment from a balance between rental and home ownership - with home ownership broadly defined as purchase and repairs - to 65% of all the funds going to purchase," Hendrickson says. "I wish they would have let people know what they were up to and vetted the language of the amendment, which they did not."

Passidomo confirms that at a recent meeting in Marco Island with the Realtors' statewide leaders, she urged them to abandon the ballot initiative, but they refused to do so. The senator calls the strategy "totally flawed," “short sighted" and "a mistake."

The Realtors still must collect valid signatures from 892,000 voters, and the amendment language must pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.