For 12 years, the Florida Legislature has subverted the real need for affordable housing in this state by raiding the one fund specifically set up to address the problem. Once again, we urge lawmakers to let the Sadowski housing fund to do what it’s meant for.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we are once again climbing upon our soapbox to urge the Florida Legislature to refrain from raiding the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the one tool our state has to specifically address the ever-increasing price of owning or renting a home.
The Sadowski trust fund uses documentary tax stamp revenue to pay for housing initiatives. Over the past 25 years the fund has generated $5.9 billion for that purpose. Yet state lawmakers just can’t keep their grubby little hands out of what they see as a tempting cookie jar.
Since the fund’s inception, the Legislature has diverted $2 billion from addressing housing needs to pay for unrelated expenses, like balancing the general budget and underwriting corporate tax cuts.
Next month’s legislative session, though, could be a historic breakthrough. After 12 consecutive sessions in which the Legislature ransacked funding dedicated to improving housing conditions, lawmakers could actually fully fund the Sadowski allocations.
They should for two reasons.
A fully funded housing budget would create 30,000 jobs and generate more than $4 billion in economic benefits, according to the Sadowski Housing Coalition, a statewide advocacy group whose call to use the trust fund solely for housing apparently keeps falling on deaf ears.
The fund is also the best way for local communities to address the problem of finding moderately priced housing. Full funding would give local housing organizations the resources to encourage the development of workforce housing and provide subsidies to help first-time buyers, seniors and persons with disabilities find affordable places to live.
The benefits of providing Floridians with more affordable and moderately priced housing should be obvious. Home ownership is a win-win proposition. It not only builds stronger, more livable communities, but it also generates tax resources for state and local coffers.
Unfortunately, protecting the one funding source that can make that possible has never been a legislative priority, even in the midst of a growing housing crisis where median incomes in Florida and many other parts of the country simply can’t compete with rising median housing prices.
At best, the housing fund raids amount to a missed opportunity locally. Since the trust fund was created, Palm Beach County lost $157 million due to legislators’ decisions to divert funding, says Suzanne Caberra, who heads the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County.
Had state lawmakers kept their distance from the Sadowski funds, the county in this current year’s budget would have received $17 million for housing initiatives. Instead the Legislature had other designs on the money and only allocated $2 million to the county.
“I’m told not to say they are stealing from the fund, but it just baffles me that we have to fight to get that back,” she told the Post Editorial Board.
Finding moderately priced housing in many parts of Florida is already at crisis level, thanks primarily to the lower wages earned in service industry jobs when compared to other parts of the country.
The standard benchmark of affordable housing is to pay no more than 30% of monthly income on housing expenses. According to the 2019 Home Matters Report from the Florida Housing Coalition, there are 921,928 households in the state that pay more than 50% of their income on housing – far more than what’s considered “affordable.”
The median listed price of homes in Palm Beach County is $349,900 and the median rent price is $2,150 a month — too much for many prospective homebuyers and tenants, which has forced many to look north to Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce for a place to live.
Once again, Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a budget that uses all $387 million of the Sadowski funds to address state housing needs. The governor recommended full funding before but meekly demurred after state lawmakers raided the funds.
If Gov. DeSantis wants to address the rising costs of housing in Florida, he’d better use his veto powers to keep state lawmakers in line. Someone has to be the “adult” here since it obviously hasn’t been the Florida Legislature.