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Budget accords spell ‘big win’ for affordable housing, Forever Florida trust funds


Focus on the Legislature

By John Haughey | The Center Square

Since assuming office last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has lobbied state lawmakers to stop diverting money from affordable housing and environmental lands trust funds into other priorities.

After a of weekend budget conferencing between the Senate and House, it appears lawmakers – many seeking re-election on November’s ballot – are heeding the governor’s call.

The House has conceded to the Senate’s plan and DeSantis’ budget request to fully fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund at $387 million. The House initially sought $144 million.

The Sadowski fund was created in 1992 to leverage private and federal funding for affordable and workforce housing. Its 10 cent surcharge for every $100 paid on real estate transactions was doubled to 20 cents in 1995. This year, it is projected to generate nearly $400 million.

During the early 2000s housing boom, trust fund revenues grew and legislators began diverting millions from the fund for other purposes. A 2018 Senate Community Affairs Committee analysis determined since 2001, lawmakers have “swept” more than $2 billion from the fund to plug budget holes and provide tax relief.

Last year, lawmakers swept $125 million of the fund’s $332 million into general funds and $115 million into Hurricane Michael recovery.

In 2018, Sadowski money was used to finance the $400 million response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

The Senate’s fiscal year 2021 plan allocates $267 million to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program and $120 million for the affordable apartments program.

The House’s offer is $225 million for SHIP, $115 million for affordable apartments and $30 million for hurricane housing recovery.

The important thing is, “We’re not going to sweep the affordable housing trust funds this year,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Saturday night.

“I think that’s a big win this session,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island, said.

The agreement drew immediate applause from House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay.

“This is great news for working Floridians,” he said in a statement. “A family shouldn’t see all of their money consumed by rent because of our high real estate prices.”

“Our state has a growing affordable housing crisis, and this shows that Tallahassee is finally dedicating the resources needed to help Florida’s working families,” Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, said.

“Restoring the Sadowski Trust funds to normal operations, where the monies dedicated to affordable housing are appropriated for affordable housing is in Florida’s best interest,” Florida Housing Coalition CEO Jaimie Ross said in a statement. “In just this year, full appropriation will mean more than 30,000 jobs and more than $4.4 billion in positive economic impact.”

Forever Florida also will see a boost. The Senate plan sets aside $125 million, DeSantis seeks $120 million and the House allocates $20 million.

“We’re making substantial progress to get much closer to where the Senate is at, frankly,” Cummings said of the House’s reported $100 million Florida Forever offer.

Florida Forever is funded by a 70-cents-per-$100 documentary stamp excise tax levied on property deeds and a 35-cents-per-$100 excise tax on promissory notes and other documents.

In January, state economists projected the fund would collect $2.87 billion in revenues. One third – $945.12 million – must be deposited to Florida Forever, where $157.69 million is committed to debt service, leaving $787.43 million.

Of that $787.43 million, at least $644 million will be dedicated to DeSantis’ proposed four-year, $2.5 billion Everglades restoration initiative. The governor asked for $625 million in this year’s budget, and lawmakers approved $680 million. This year, both chambers are proposing about $20 million more than DeSantis’ request.

Affordable Housing, The Center Square, The Florida Legislature


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