Florida Senate unanimously approves $700 million plan to address affordable housing

Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix

Saying that it’s the time to address the housing crisis in Florida, the state Senate unanimously passed a more than $700 million affordable housing package on Wednesday, on the second day of the 2023 regular legislative session.

The measure, called the Live Local Act, has been considered a top initiative for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo going into this year’s session.

The proposal aims to create affordable housing by providing major tax breaks to homebuilders and hundreds of millions of dollars in direct funding to the state’s housing programs.

“One of the main focuses is to increase the amount of safe affordable housing for Floridians that are here today to deal with the enormous housing crisis we have in front of us, but also to plan with the enormous growth that we’re experiencing every day,” said Miami-Dade County state Sen. Alexis Calatayud, who sponsored the measure in the Senate. “The investments that we’re making – the tax incentives, the tax exemptions, our tax credit programs. All of our strategies are focused on increasing the supply of safe, affordable units.”

While Democrats said the measure was far from perfect, they were effusive in praising Calatayud and Passidomo for making it a priority for this session.

“The housing crisis in Florida is one of the biggest challenges that we face,” said Hillsborough and Pinellas state Sen. Darryl Rouson, the only Democrat who was listed as a “co-introducer” on the legislation. “It affects every single one of our districts and it’s causing tremendous pain for families in Florida. What this bill does is it creates an environment in our state where decent, safe and affordable housing can be a reality for more Floridians.”

As the Phoenix reported earlier this week, The bill would invest in at least $711 million into the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), the public-private entity that administers the two biggest statewide affordable housing programs. It puts $252 million into the State Housing Initiatives Program (SHIP), where funds are provided to local governments as an incentive for the creation of partnerships to produce and preserve affordable housing and $259 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL), including $150 million in new recurring funds. That program provides low-interest loans to affordable housing developers.

The SHIP and SAIL programs are the two main programs that fund what’s been called the Sadowski Trust fund.

“Every year we say that we’re going to do the right thing with Sadowski funding, but we never do. Until 2023,” said Pinellas County Republican Ed Hooper.

The measure also calls for $100 million in non-recurring funds for “gap financing” – which will help bridge the financing gap on projects already underway but that are experiencing issues in starting or completing construction — and $100 million for the Florida Hometown Heroes Program, which will provide down payments to first-time, income-qualified homebuyers from all fields.

While Senate Democrats are relatively pleased with what’s in the package, housing activists remain disturbed that the bill probits local governments from imposing any rent stabilization measures.

A group called the Local Progress Impact Lab released a survey of 1,250 registered voters in Florida conducted by the African-American Research Collaborative on Wednesday that showed that 81% of those surveyed either strongly or somewhat agreed that the state should limit rent increases. Another 82% want 60-day notice requirements for rent changes.

But South Florida Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo said flatly that rent control is “socialism,” and added that “unless you are prepared to compensate a landlord when the market gets soft, to cover their debt service, their insurance, their taxes and their carrying costs, they shouldn’t speak of it. That’s not the solution. Supply has always been and always will be the solution.”

There have also been concerns expressed by local officials regarding a provision that would preempt local governments when it comes to standards of height, density and zoning for developments that guarantee that 40 percent of the units being built would be for affordable housing.

Members of the Martin County Commission in Southeast Florida said Tuesday that they would launch a public information campaign to oppose the measure, according to WPTV.

“Egregious might not even be a strong enough word,” Martin County Commissioner Ed Ciampi told the television station. “This is one of the most challenging things they’ve sent down from Tallahassee, and they’ve sent some doozies, but this, it disrupts everything.”

While the measure has passed the Senate, its House version went before the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, where it was advanced, but not without dissent from Democrats, who proposed nine separate amendments to the legislation – none of which were approved.

“As the Ranking Member of the State Affairs Committee I was incredibly disappointed to see a housing bill come before us that did not include immediate relief or protections for Florida’s renters,” said Pinellas and Hillsborough County Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby in a written statement. “We have the solutions to solve the housing affordability crisis and it can’t just be one-sided to solely focus on developers. We need to ensure a community driven approach that evens the playing field and doesn’t leave anyone behind.”

The bill has two more stops through the House before it reaches the floor for final passage.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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