How will Florida make housing more affordable for middle income workers? | Editorial
The question comes as housing prices and rents climb.
An effort to put an affordable-housing measure on the statewide ballot in 2022 has now been sidelined in favor of negotiations with the Florida Legislature.
An effort to put an affordable-housing measure on the statewide ballot in 2022 has now been sidelined in favor of negotiations with the Florida Legislature.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sept. 10, 2021

The Florida Realtors recently decided to drop an affordable housing initiative from next year’s statewide ballot. The Realtors faced an uphill climb in putting the referendum on the ballot, and it wasn’t entirely clear that the home-selling industry was the ideal front for such an initiative. But as housing prices and monthly rents skyrocket, the loss of a public pressure campaign will test the Republican-led Legislature’s commitment to this problem.

The Realtors made the announcement this week, saying that “a legislative solution” was a faster method for addressing affordable housing in Florida than a referendum in November 2022. The advocacy group said it made the decision “following highly productive discussions with legislative leaders.” The news comes after Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors contributed at least $13 million to a political committee heading the ballot initiative.

As a practical matter, the Realtors faced a tough task, as the committee had collected only a fraction of the petition signatures needed for the ballot, and as housing was looking to compete with high-profile elections next year for statewide office. And opponents would have painted the industry as conflicted and self-serving for backing a measure that many conservatives complain amounts to baiting the field for Realtors looking to sell more homes.

Still, the move leaves open big questions about how the state will tackle housing affordability. Facing little inventory, a lack of new construction, continued population growth and housing prices far outpacing income gains, Floridians are increasingly pinched from the market. Investors and out-of-state buyers are flooding the market with money, offering cash and forcing bidding wars well above a property’s asking price. Rent increases across Tampa Bay were the highest in the first half of this year of any metro area in the country, one real estate data firm found; residents here need to hold three minimum wage jobs to cover the cost of a two-bedroom rental.

It was predictable but not entirely encouraging that legislative leaders praised the Realtors’ move, with Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls faulting a constitutional amendment as unwieldy for responding to the “extremely fluid” changes in the housing market. The market may be fluid, but prices are only rising, not falling, at least for now. This was another win for Republican leaders who want to keep constitutional amendments from interfering with legislative control. And it’s not clear what the Realtors’ gained from dropping the initiative, beyond what should be a more friendly climate next session in Tallahassee. While Simpson and Sprowls suggested there might be new housing “opportunities” for teachers, first responders and health care workers, they also underscored the “flexibility needed to fund the many other critical priorities of our state.”

It’s routine for lawmakers to throw crumbs to police and firefighters as proof of their working-class bona fides. But what about workers in hotels, restaurants, retail, tourism and the service industries? The need for affordable housing extends far beyond public safety personnel; workers across public and private industry alike are being priced out of established neighborhoods and proximity to work. That’s one reason local governments across the state are reexamining a host of issues — from zoning codes to mass transit service — to ensure that workers are in adequate supply and that employers can access the local workforce they need.

The same lawmakers who so often raided the state’s affordable housing trust fund to pay for other projects have a ways to go in demonstrating their commitment to this issue. The state needs to provide more resources and work with local governments to expand housing options, to maintain and increase residential stock and to partner effectively with the private sector to develop more sustainable and mixed-use communities. Stable housing is good for public safety, health, schools, businesses, the tax base, personal wealth — and it’s beyond time that Florida addressed this critical need with meaningful solutions.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.