Florida lawmakers shouldn’t divert Sadowski’s housing money

“Warning: Alachua County under construction.” That’s how I feel driving around southwest Gainesville.

Florida is one of the least affordable places to live in the country. House prices and rents are rising because so many people are moving here. Strong demand is fueling construction in Alachua County, but we have a low supply of affordable housing.

Meanwhile, renting Floridians are being forced out of their homes by Northeast financial services companies relocating here high-paying workers, retirees coming to Florida and the lack of housing. Housing affordability fell 29% from March 2021 to 2022, the biggest drop on record, according to the National Association of Realtors. For the average buyer with a 20% down payment, the monthly payment on this mortgage is 44% higher than last year.

In 1992, the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act created a dedicated housing revenue stream from a portion of the documentary stamp duty on the transfer of real estate. This act provided a flexible but accountable framework for the operation of affordable housing programs. Dedicated revenue went to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which began in 1995.

In 2005, the legislature limited the amount of revenue paid into the housing trust fund to $243 million per year, but allowed a slight increase over time. The 2007 Legislature removed the cap, creating a new annual requirement that the first $75 million of documentary revenue must be contributed to the state’s Economic Improvement and Development Trust Fund.

Funds from the Sadowski Act had supported housing programs for the homeless and a number of state and local programs. But Florida lawmakers have “swept away” the state’s affordable housing fund to pay for other budget items over the past 18 years.

Alachua County’s lack of affordable housing for middle- and low-income Floridians is severely hurting lower-paid teachers, police officers, nurses, and hospitality, retail, and restaurant workers from Florida. Nearly 900,000 Floridians spend more than 50% of their income on housing.

Our state legislators are of no help. Instead of legislation that would cap increases in rent prices, they are considering measures to provide tax breaks to developers who build affordable housing and the banks that finance it. They “sweep” funds from those allocated to affordable housing, diminishing the value of all assistance programs in Florida. So, as we prepare for the election, you may want to ask the candidates for public office if they approve of sweeping up dedicated funds to pay for other projects.

The Florida House of Representatives meets at the Capitol on November 15.

What else can be done to alleviate this housing crisis? One proposal would be to cap rental price increases, another proposal would be to make it illegal for lawmakers to steal (wipe out) the Sadowski fund and allow it to accomplish what it was meant to do. Another suggestion is that our legislators enact statutory consumer protections against price gouging.

Will you let your state’s legislative candidates know that you want them to stop diverting money from the Sadowski fund to pay for new or other programs? In 2021, approximately $423 million should have been deposited in national and local housing trust funds. Florida lawmakers are stealing the state’s affordable housing fund as our need for affordable housing options grows.

June Girard is a former Island Navigator columnist in the Florida Keys who lives in Gainesville.

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