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Opinion: affordable housing is under attack in Florida

This is your wake-up call, Florida, and we need your help to save affordable housing. Last week, Senate President Wilton Simpson and Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls unveiled legislation, HB 5401 and SPB 2512, to permanently redirect two-thirds of the housing trust funds each year to sea level rise and wastewater infrastructure projects. 

That’s some serious money that won’t be available to teachers, firefighters, nurses and other first responders for housing assistance. If this legislation passes, 66% of the $423 million available in the housing trust funds will go toward priorities other than housing. 

This is unacceptable. 

For nearly 30 years, the State Housing Initiative Program has received $2.6 billion from the housing trust funds that has helped 217,000 households with down payment and closing cost assistance, among other housing programs. A $423 million investment into housing programs next year would create 33,000 jobs and more than $4.9 billion in positive economic impact. That’s sound policy as we seek to restore our economy to a pre-pandemic state. 

Monies for the housing trust funds come from a portion of the documentary stamp taxes charged on every real estate transaction. In 1992, Realtors advocated for this tax — 10 cents per $100 of value — on the condition that all monies collected went to housing programs. 

But for years, that hasn’t happened.

During years of budget shortfalls, legislators swept more than $2.3 billion collected for the housing trust funds into general revenue. And now, when the people of Florida are experiencing pandemic-related challenges that include a critical shortage of affordable, attainable housing, there’s a plan to permanently reduce these vital “trust” funds to the lowest level of all.

The idea of permanently redirecting two-thirds of the housing trust funds is concerning during a pandemic. Housing has been our refuge, office, childcare and more. Essential workers, our first and last line of defense, would be left with one less option to secure housing, be it down payment or rental assistance. 

Florida Realtors is the voice for millions of property owners who have paid into the housing trust funds. On their behalf, know that we appreciate the need to fund other priorities. But affordable housing is a priority now more than ever in this post-pandemic economy. Affordable housing is a priority for the elderly on fixed incomes and low-income families. Affordable housing is a priority for teachers, firefighters, first responders and others who serve our communities. Our essential workers have guided us through the pandemic, and housing trust funds should be available to help them achieve the American dream of homeownership.  

In 1992, lawmakers created a dedicated trust fund for housing purposes. HB 5401 and SPB 2512 would permanently change this dedicated funding source. 

Visit affordablehousingfl.org today to tell your elected leaders to honor the intended purpose of the trust funds and support affordable housing by voting no on HB 5401 and SPB 2512.

— Submitted by Wayne Carter of the Middle and Lower Keys Association of Realtors and Lynda S. Anthony of the Florida Keys Board of Realtors. 

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