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Covid-19 remains an issue, hundreds of thousands of Floridians are out of work, there is a looming eviction crisis and Florida is staring down the barrel of billions of dollars in budget deficits. When the Florida Legislature convenes for the 2021 legislative session, there won’t be too many easy options. Tough decisions will need to be made, including budget cuts, cuts to services, and other cuts in discretionary spending. However, this year unlike any other years in recent history, the legislature must fully appropriate the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
For the uninitiated, the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund was created in the early 1990s after successful lobbying efforts from both the Florida Home Builder Association and the Florida Realtor Association. The goal of both associations and other supporters was to create a dedicated trust fund that would support either the construction or preservation of affordable housing throughout the state. Trust fund revenues come from an incremental increase of taxes paid on all property transactions. Recently, the trust fund generated over $300 million annually for affordable housing throughout the state. However, the trust fund can be “swept” by the legislature to fill budget gaps or meet other needs throughout the State. In fact, since 2001, the trust fund has only been fully-funded three times and was last fully appropriated in 2007. During this time, almost $3 billion has been diverted into non-housing related items. Although $3 billion alone would not have solved the affordable housing crisis our state is currently experiencing, it most certainly would have helped alleviate some of the issues we’re facing today.
This brings us to the present day. Before this global pandemic was completely understood by most, during the 2020 legislative session, for the first time in 13 years, the legislature fully funded the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. At the time, housing advocates, such as myself rejoiced. Locally, the Tampa Bay Region would have realized over $30 million in funding to support a litany of housing programs. However, faced with such economic uncertainty, Governor DeSantis, who supported full funding, ultimately vetoed $225 million of appropriations, instead opting to replace much of the funding with rental and mortgage assistance programs provided by the federal CARES Act Funding.
Yet, there is still hope. Governor DeSantis recently released his 2021 budget proposal which would provide $423 million for affordable housing. However, this is just the start of negotiations between the governor, House and Senate. Now, the 2021 Florida Legislature will decide how to appropriate an anticipated $600 million earmarked for affordable housing. A newly released economic analysis prepared by the Regional Economic Consulting Group concluded fully funding the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund would provide $3.5 billion in total development, see 30,473 units newly constructed or rehabilitated, 48,199 jobs created, and an economic impact of more than $7.3 billion. With the economic activity created, $245 million taxes would be generated, with $127.2 million going back to the state. Housing is an economic engine and a smart investment.
During these unprecedented times, we must remember that housing is essential. Now, more than ever is the time to make the investments we failed to make in the past. Housing provides safety, stability and shelter. Housing is also an integral part of healthcare. The ability to stay “safer at home” relies on the condition that one has a safe and adequate place to shelter in. Many of us take this for granted, however, many of our fellow community members lack access to safe, decent and affordable housing.
Given these trying times, when health and wellness are of paramount concern; safe, decent, and affordable housing is essential to individual’s and family’s wellbeing as well as our community as a whole. It is also a smart investment and will help restart our economy and get people back to work.
We all must urge our State Legislators to have the courage to again fully fund the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund because livelihoods depend on it.
Mike Sutton is President and CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.