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Florida lawmakers have been raiding the state’s affordable housing fund for so long, they’ve decided to drop the pretense and alter the law to fit their own twisted reasoning.
That’s what’s happening in Tallahassee now, where legislators have been siphoning money from the state’s housing trust fund to pay for other budget items for 18 years, housing advocates say. Lawmakers passed a bill last week that, if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it, will permanently enshrine those shoddy actions into law.
And in a year when the state is set to get $10 billion in COVID money from the feds and an unexpected $2 billion in state taxes, that change is not only wrong, it’s unnecessary.
The trust fund money comes from a tax on real-estate transactions. Under Senate Bill 2512, money previously slated for affordable housing will now be divided three ways: for sea-level rise, for wastewater issues such as septic-to-sewer conversions and for affordable-housing programs. Affordable housing gets just 9 percent of the money.
Flooding and pollution definitely are important issues that need to be tackled in a serious way. Just not this way.
Created in 1992
The proposed law is also supposed to — finally — stop the Legislature’s longstanding practice of “sweeping” affordable-housing money into the general fund whenever there’s a budgetary hole. That’s nice, but it doesn’t change the fact that much of the affordable-housing trust fund will be spent elsewhere.
It was the Legislature that created this trust fund back in 1992, passing the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act after Sadowski — a Miami lawyer, legislator and Department of Community Affairs chief known for his fair dealings and a willingness to talk things out — died in a state plane crash that year at age 48.
His 16-point creed for legislative service, written in the 1980s for freshman lawmakers, included such mind-blowing concepts (in today’s world) as serving all of the people and respecting opposing viewpoints.
DeSantis has tried to honor the state’s original commitment, at least on paper. Twice in his proposed budget, he has included full funding for affordable housing — about $423 million this year, which housing advocates say could generate $4.9 billion in economic benefits and create 33,000 jobs.
But the Legislature, led by House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson, voted against all that. The only smidgen of a compromise is that they increased the affordable housing slice from 6.8 percent to 9 percent.
Need is critical
Affordable housing will get about $209 million this year. Jaimie Ross, CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, is asking the state to help cushion the blow by adding a one-time additional amount of $225 million.
Affordable housing has never been more critical in Florida, especially in Miami-Dade County, one of the least affordable places to live in the nation. The county currently needs 160,000 affordable rental units.
Bill Sadowski’s widow, Jean, told the Editorial Board that she believes her husband would be pleased that lawmakers will finally have to stop the sweeps, but that he also would have continued “to work with the Legislature, hoping to convince them of the need to fully fund the trust. He believed that affordable housing should be available to all Floridians, and the trust funds would help provide that opportunity.”
The Legislature named the housing act after Sadowski to honor him and his cause. But their actions, 30 years later, say something entirely different.