1. Letters to the Editor

Saturday's letters: Fighting for fairness in housing

Published Mar. 31, 2017

National Fair Housing Month

Ensuring housing rights for all

Forty-nine years ago this month, on April 11, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and family status. This important law also made it unlawful for a housing provider to make, print or publish any statement or advertisement providing for a preference based on these classes.

Every April, people across the United States are encouraged to learn more about their rights and responsibilities under the act as a part of National Fair Housing Month. This year's theme — "Fair Housing Equals Opportunity" — reminds us that all citizens are entitled to the same fair housing rights when seeking to rent, own, buy or insure a home and they are free to take action if they suspect discrimination.

The Florida Commission on Human Relations is your state agency charged with investigating cases of housing discrimination. Last year alone, the commission investigated more than 200 cases where housing discrimination was alleged. Even with the passage of the federal act and the Florida Fair Housing Act in 1983, discrimination in housing persists. The top five bases of discrimination are (in order of most to least): disability, race, national origin, familial status and sex.

As executive director of the commission, I often have the opportunity to inform people that they have the power to fight housing discrimination. If you feel you have been discriminated against, you should either contact the commission, a local fair housing center or the U.S. Housing and Urban Development as the first step in this process.

Michelle Wilson, Tallahassee

The writer is executive director of the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

Franchise owners

Bill helps small investors

When it comes to franchises, you know the names — Dunkin' Donuts, Planet Fitness, Meineke, 7-Eleven and others — but you may not realize these stores are often owned locally. As one of these local owners, I know starting franchises takes a lot of time, money and hard work to succeed. That's why I support the Protect Florida Small Business Act.

This legislation, sponsored by Florida Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, provides reasonable protections for the more than 40,000 franchised businesses in Florida, helping Floridians like me who take the risk to invest in one.

For me, this is not just a business; it's what I've invested my life into. In 1973, my family sold almost everything we had to invest in a Dunkin' Donuts franchise in Brandon. Through years of dedication, we now own 12 stores in Hillsborough County and provide jobs for more than 300 area residents.

Along with employing local residents, money spent at our franchises goes directly into the local economy. Furthermore, franchise owners have a positive impact in our community. For example, I am a proud sponsor of high school baseball teams, and last year I had the privilege of taking a tractor and redoing the baseball field at Bloomingdale High School in Valrico.

Unfortunately, with such expensive operation costs, franchise owners will think twice before expanding, creating more jobs and investing in the local community because there is so much uncertainty about the future of their agreements with the national companies.

My family has operated a franchise business for more than four decades, and I know that this legislation will give others like me added comfort to expand our businesses and hire more local residents.

I urge Florida lawmakers to support businesses and enact meaningful legislation to protect their local franchise owners.

Nick Apostoleres, Brandon

Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida

Programs boost economy

Right now, jobs and the future of Florida's economy are in jeopardy. That's because some politicians in Tallahassee want to eliminate Florida's economic development programs and slash the state's tourism marketing efforts.

Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Florida's economic development and tourism marketing programs, are essential to the economic well-being of our state. Eliminating Florida's targeted and proven economic development programs is not the way forward, and will slam the brakes on the amazing job creation success Florida has seen since the end of the Great Recession.

While incentives paid for by hard-working taxpayers are rarely ever used and are almost always inappropriate, Enterprise Florida has safeguards in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used as corporate welfare to skimp on contractual obligations. As Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida TaxWatch have often said, programs offered by Enterprise Florida are not paid until the business achieves what is outlined in the contract.

If the Florida House has its way, Visit Florida will see its budget slashed by $50 million — a move that would cut two-thirds funding. Tourism is still one of Florida's top industries for jobs and economic growth, despite Florida having a more diverse economic portfolio than at any other time in state history.

The point is that until the Legislature puts jobs and families first, now is the worst possible time to make Florida less competitive.

Taking economic development strategies that work off the table is shortsighted, and without question harms Florida's ability to continue to lead the nation in job creation. Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida are important pieces to Florida's economic puzzle and strangling their resources will hurt our state, our taxpayers, job creators and 20-plus million residents for years to come.

Mark Wilson and Dominic M. Calabro, Tallahassee

Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Dominic M. Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.