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Florida House could thwart effort to stop raiding housing fund

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Senate are backing measures that would stop the raiding of the Sadowski State and Local Housing Trust Funds, but the legislation is hitting a roadblock in the House.

The funds were set up to help make housing more affordable in the state and come from the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions. However, the Legislature has consistently raided the funds for other purposes.

The Miami Herald has previously reported that since 2008, lawmakers have swept roughly $1.3 billion from the statewide collected funds of $1.87 billion and moved them into the general fund.

Since 2010 Broward County has lost nearly $100 million in sweeps of Sadowski funds, said Sandra Veszi Einhorn, executive director at the Coordinating Council of Broward. “These are dollars we critically need to address the affordable housing crisis locally.”

One recent House plan would take $200 million out of the Sadowski Fund and put it in other parts of the budget, FloridaPolitics.com reported. The House proposal would fund Sadowski at $123 million, but that money could only be used in counties hit hard by Hurricane Michael.

Since Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle, South Florida would not be getting back stamp taxes paid on transactions here.

With affordable housing looming as an issue in Florida, there has been a push to stop the practice.

The Sadowski Coalition—made up of 32 diverse statewide organizations, including industry and business groups; advocates for the elderly, veterans, homeless and special needs; and faith-based organizations—held a press conference on Feb. 26, calling on the Legislature to use all state and local housing trust fund monies for housing in fiscal year 2019-20.

A March 23 report by the coalition said the House was almost $210 million short when compared to the Senate’s appropriation for affordable housing.

The group also spotlight the Florida “Home Matters Report 2019,” which found nearly 922,000 very low-income households pay more than half their income on housing. Those households are housing instable – meaning temporary job loss, a broken car or a medical issue could mean eviction and the downward spiral to homelessness. Very low-income households include hardworking families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Major business groups in Florida are supporting the effort. (To contact your Florida House representative, visit https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/representatives.aspx

Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, and facilitator of the Sadowski Coalition, was joined at the press conference by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), Florida Chamber of Commerce (Florida Chamber), Habitat for Humanity of Florida, Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA) and the Florida Realtors.

One of the prime beneficiaries of the housing funds is the State Apartment Incentive Loan program (SAIL), which provides low-interest loans on a competitive basis to affordable housing developers each year. A minimum of 20 percent of the development’s units must be set aside for families earning 50 percent or less of the area median income.

Another beneficiary is the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program (SHIP), which provides funds to local governments as an incentive to create partnerships that produce and preserve affordable homeownership and multifamily housing. The program was designed to serve very low, low and moderate income families.

“Affordable housing is of great concern to our business community and it’s something that we consistently hear from our members,” Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of state and federal affairs for AIF said at the press conference. “Investing in Florida’s affordable housing will go a long way toward addressing this concern by fostering stability and economic prosperity in our state. Fully funding affordable housing goes a long way toward enhancing our state’s workforce and business climate. If we can ensure that Florida’s employees at all income levels can find a safe, reliable and affordable home near their job, our state can continue to be one of the best places to do business in the nation.”

“After meeting with more than 10,000 individuals throughout Florida, as a part of the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida 2030, we found that affordable housing was the one issue that was raised by respondents in every community the Florida Chamber Foundation surveyed,” said Chris Emmanuel, director of infrastructure & governance policy for the Florida Chamber. “The Florida Chamber will continue to support the use of the Housing Trust Fund for the purpose of attainable housing and will continue to work with the Florida Legislature to create more attainable housing options which will in turn create jobs and promote economic prosperity for all.”

“Habitat for Humanity builds more homes in Florida than any other state in the country,” said Barbara Beck, president & CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Florida. “We serve close to 2,000 families annually in Florida. A cornerstone for our success in Florida is the SHIP. But our success falters when housing trust funds have been swept either wholly or in part. Those sweeps have very real consequences for Florida families, because when SHIP monies are swept, Habitat serves fewer families.”

“Florida has surpassed the 20-million population mark, and we are continuing to grow each and every year,” said Michael Bourré, first vice president of the FHBA, which is a member of the Sadowski Coalition. “Our ever-growing population will need housing. Even more, our essential workers, like teachers, nurses and firefighters, are in great need of affordable housing and rentals. Using the money generated by the Sadowski Act creates jobs in the construction industry and boosts Florida’s employment and economy.”

“The economic impact of the housing trust funds is well documented,” said Andy Gonzalez, public policy representative for the Florida Realtors. “In 2016, we commissioned Florida State University to conduct a 10-year economic impact analysis of the SHIP and SAIL programs. The study found that for every dollar Florida’s Legislature appropriated over those 10 years, $9.50 in economic activity was generated for the state. The Legislature has a great opportunity to increase this economic impact by appropriating all of Florida’s housing trust funds for housing. We ask the Legislature to consider the positive economic impact of the SHIP and SAIL programs, and the transformative effect they have on the lives of Floridians and their families.”

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