Advertisement
  1. Business

Gov. Ron DeSantis should end the raids on Florida's affordable housing trust fund

Once again, state lawmakers have raided the affordable housing trust fund. OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2019)
Published May 16

Some things seem inevitable. Snowbirds return every fall, beach bars play Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and Florida lawmakers pillage the affordable housing trust fund.

They did it again this year, sweeping $240 million to other purposes, leaving just $85 million to help house low-income families. This is the 12th year in a row that Republicans who control the state House have steered at least half the trust fund's money toward other budget priorities. The raids date back even further. Since 2001, they have siphoned more than $2 billion from the trust fund into general revenue, according to a Senate report.

After the Great Recession, state leaders said they needed the money for vital government operations. As the economy improved, they kept doing it because they could. They liked to remind everyone that earmarks for affordable housing were merely suggestions for how to spend the money. The Legislature writes the budget, they said.

The state is now coping with an affordable housing crisis, an outcome any two-bit seer could have predicted.

JOE HENDERSON: Growth and taxes. Hillsborough needs to get a grip.

More than 20,000 people are on the Tampa Housing Authority's wait list for subsidized apartments or vouchers. In Pinellas, it's about 16,000 families. Miami needs at least 50,000 units, a recent study found.

The Tampa Bay metro area has one of the most severe affordable housing shortages in the country, thanks to low wages, high rents and rising home prices, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition's 2019 Gap Report. Orlando was even worse, ranking last for the number of affordable rental homes.

The problem doesn't just affect the homeless or the chronically unemployed. Teachers complain they can't afford to live close to where they work. So do new police officers and firefighters. Business leaders often list affordable housing for workers among their top concerns.

In the early 1990s, state leaders added a surcharge to real estate transactions as part of the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act, named after a former legislator who died in a plane crash. The money helps with financing for developers who agree to build affordable rental apartments. Counties also use the funds to repair existing housing or to support down payment assistance for first-time home buyers.

Advocates praised Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year when he said affordable housing was a priority. Before the recently ended legislative session, he proposed keeping the trust fund intact. So too did the state Senate. House leaders saw things differently.

EDITORIAL: Put a lid on those garbage cans.

After negotiations, lawmakers appropriated $115 million from the trust fund to help the Panhandle dig out from Hurricane Michael. That's reasonable given that an ongoing partisan spat in Washington has delayed federal aid.

But they also swept $125 million into the general fund, a piggy bank that can fund their pet projects. They left just $85 million for affordable housing. Not nearly enough to tackle the problem.

The Sadowski Coalition, 32 diverse groups ranging from the Florida Bankers Association to the Florida Veterans Foundation, has asked the governor to use a line-item veto to restore the $125 million to the fund. The coalition points to how former Gov. Rick Scott used a similar veto after legislators tried to sweep money from his beloved Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund.

"There's a precedent for this," said Jaimie Ross, the coalition's facilitator. "That was a Republican governor saying no to members of his own party."

Gov. DeSantis should veto the $125 million. It's the right thing to do and will also send a message to House leaders to stop their annual assault on the trust fund.

Cities and counties need the money to tackle the crisis before it gets worse. Some lawmakers seem to think it's smart to choke the water hoses as a fire rages. That's short-sighted. Affordable housing helps ensure a vibrant workforce, the lifeblood of a diverse economy.

Contact Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Frances Werner-Watkins Julie Rinaldi
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Left to right: Oak Hill Hospital Anesthesiology residents Daniel Eskander, Wayne Simmons, Jeffrey Huang and Benjamin Segil. Katie Stacy/Oak Hill Hospital
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. A total of 131 employees are scheduled to be laid off in January as Locale Market and Farm Table Cucina close at the Sundial to make way for a new food hall created by the developers of the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES
    In a notice to the state of Florida, Sundial owner Bill Edwards said the layoffs are expected to take place the first week of January.
  4. WeWork is opening Tampa offices at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. despite company struggles, including $1.25 billion in losses over 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    WeWork has 200 planned coworking space openings as leadership tries to manage $1.25 billion in losses.
  5. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  6. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  7. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement