1. Opinion

Column: Florida should tackle affordable housing crisis

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2012) These townhomes along Drew Street in Clearwater opened in 2012. They were built as part of a city plan to stimulate the area with affordable housing.
Published May 17

Florida is in a housing state of emergency.

As an entrepreneur building a multistate affordable housing company and having traveled the state for two years as a candidate for governor and then the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, I have heard time and again from people all over the state that we have a major problem with the lack of affordable housing in Florida.

It is big, it is troubling and it will eat up our economic future if our leaders in Tallahassee do not respond with speed and imagination.

Central Florida, where I live, is but a microcosm. Orlando's metro area is ranked at the very top of the nation in its lack of affordable housing while also being one of the lowest for median wage. But don't pick on Orlando. Miami and South Florida share our pain. Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg share our pain. In fact, while I visited nearly every region of the state in my race, I failed to meet one local leader who said that we have this issue figured out. Small towns and urban centers, white, black and Latino neighborhoods, millennials and seniors…no group has escaped the pain of this growing cancer.

This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is not about handouts, socialism or runaway government spending. This is about building an economy and living in a state that cares for all of us. Our economic growth and our small businesses' ability to attract employees is at stake.

So, what do we need to do?

First, Tallahassee must stop raiding the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. There have been 20 years of raids. Over $2 billion in your tax dollars taken from housing. Have they learned their lesson or changed their ways?

No. Another year, another governor, another raid. Any investor understands the concept of leverage. The influence of $1 to extract the power of $3 or $4. The year after year of Republican-led raids have not removed $2 billion of affordable housing investment but many multiples of that. It is wrong, and it must stop. If you are a teacher, you are impacted. If you are a senior citizen, you are impacted. If you are a recent college graduate, you are impacted.

Second, Gov. Ron DeSantis must veto HB 7103, a new anti-affordable housing bill that is less concerned with addressing this crisis than in forcing local governments to ensure developers can recoup their costs for complying with any affordable housing mandates. This is another case of Tallahassee saying they know better than locally elected leaders struggling with the realities of this housing crisis. It is why the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties fought this. I trust local governments. Isn't that a conservative notion? When dealing with an emergency, local governments should not have their hands tied; they should be incentivized to be creative and entrepreneurial.

Third, DeSantis needs to call on business leaders and entrepreneurs to step up and create private solutions to this public crisis. To find ways to build, revitalize and provide housing that is safe, clean and affordable. That is not partisan, it is common sense. But we knew this stuff two years ago, four years ago, six years ago. And Tallahassee doesn't seem to change.

What can we do?

Each one of us can start by caring. By having empathy for the single mom who makes minimum wage and can't find a one-bedroom in Orlando or Tampa for less than $1,100. Empathy for the 72-year old senior citizen who recently lost her husband and is struggling to find a place to live on a fixed income. If you care, you can help somebody else to care. If you speak out, somebody else is more likely to speak out. If you lead, a friend is likely to follow.

One day, our leaders will do the right thing. But until then, we can do the right thing.

Chris King was the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and is CEO of Elevation Financial Group.


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