Pasco County froze aid for rehabbing homes this week over fears Florida lawmakers will raid affordable housing money to help fill a budget hole.
A Florida Housing Finance Corp. official sent a message to officials across the state that money for affordable housing in the State Housing Initiatives Partnership would be frozen until after the Legislature finishes its special session slated for Jan. 5 to 17.
"While we hope this will not occur, it is even possible that all SHIP funding that has not been distributed will be swept by the Legislature," wrote administrator Rob Dearduff on Monday, urging that officials operate as though no more money would come.
So Pasco community development manager George Romagnoli stopped the county's programs, including foreclosure prevention and paying tax bills. The county faced losing $1.9-million, half of the state money its relies on to help residents. For example, that means 50 applications for loans to repair homes are on ice, though 25 projects remain ongoing, Romagnoli said.
"They hold back that money, and we can't keep on," he said.
However, state Sen. Mike Fasano, chairman of a committee that oversees housing spending, said lawmakers have not targeted the housing money, which is set aside in a trust fund. Gov. Charlie Crist's budget-cutting proposal Tuesday didn't include taking any money from the trust fund.
"I will tell you the Senate has no interest in sweeping the dollars out of the trust fund," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a top deputy to Senate President Jeff Atwater.
Steve Auger, executive director of Florida Housing, said the agency intended to make sure local officials understood money is tight.
The agency planned to deliver $161-million statewide in 2008-09 to counties and cities for affordable housing, sending money every three months.
The next allotment was supposed to be sent out the first week of January, and it might still go out depending on what lawmakers decide, he said.
While he and other housing advocates remain wary of a potential reduction, nothing more than a possible 10 percent cut across state government has been floated.
"The intention wasn't to create firestorm," Auger said of the e-mail to officials.
Not that one ignited in Pinellas County, which is slated to receive $4.5-million. Cheryl Reed, the assistant director of community development, said the county's affordable housing program was prepared for any freeze because it doesn't spend money until it has it.
Romagnoli said Pasco should be in good financial shape too. Its promised loans are nearly the same as dollars on hand. It also can rely on repayments to provide money for more lending, although it would take a lot to keep the programs operating if money stops flowing.
Any decision would not affect a new source of money to help stanch foreclosures in Pasco. The county will still receive $19.5-million from Congress, and federal officials in federal housing agency's regional office in Jacksonville have signed off on those funds, Romagnoli said.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.