Is this the year Florida lawmakers stop diverting affordable housing money to other uses? | Editorial
For 12 years, money from the Sadowski housing trust fund has been misappropriated by the Florida Legislature. Will 2020 be the year it’s spent correctly?
Supporters of a rent control initiative calling for more rent control march on the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif.
Supporters of a rent control initiative calling for more rent control march on the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. [ RICH PEDRONCELLI | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 12, 2020

For 12 straight years, the Florida Legislature has taken at least half of the money set aside for affordable housing in the Sadowski trust fund and spent it in other areas. With skyrocketing rents across the state and income levels that don’t match up, that money is more needed more than ever for its intended use. Legislators should follow Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recommendation this session, spend the full amount on affordable housing and address the crisis the state has ignored for years.

The Sadowski trust fund was established in 1992 as a specific source for housing, with the money coming from a state documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions. Thirty percent of the funds generated go into the State Housing Trust Fund, while 70 percent go into the Local Government Housing Trust Fund. But since 2001, legislators have taken more than $2 billion in Sadowski money and spent it in other ways. Last year, legislators took almost 75 percent of the $325 million earned from part of the documentary stamp tax and put it toward other uses. The money should be spent as originally intended.

Spending the full amount on affordable housing would be significant. In 2019, Pinellas County received about $1.4 million from the trust funds. It should have received $11.7 million. It’s the same story in Hillsborough. Last year, the county received almost $2 million from the trust funds for affordable housing. It should have received $16.9 million.

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Florida’s cities and counties deserve credit. They have made the most with what they have. St. Petersburg has implemented a 10-year affordable housing plan with zoning and planning policy changes that stand to have a real impact. Hillsborough County commissioners pledged this year to set aside $10 million every year in a local affordable housing trust fund. Pinellas voters overwhelmingly voted to extend a 1-cent sales tax between 2020 and 2030 that will dedicate roughly $80 million to affordable housing. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s first budget allotted $1.6 million in state and federal funding to help moderate to low-income families buy homes.

But this good work on the local level doesn’t mean local governments have adequate resources to meet the need. There is still so much more work to be done, especially when housing doesn’t feel all that affordable for many of Tampa Bay’s residents, even those making 120 percent of the area’s median income. An employee earning Florida’s minimum hourly wage, $8.56, would need to work about 108 hours a week to be able to rent a humble two-bedroom apartment in the state, based on a study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition this summer. And when many of Florida’s cities and counties have economies that rely heavily on tourism and working-class employees in that industry, they should be able to live near where they work.

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For legislators, the question during the legislative session that starts Tuesday will come down to whether they think accessible and comfortable housing is a basic human right, or just one only the middle class and the wealthy deserve. Every nickel from the Sadowski trust fund should be spent on affordable housing.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.