Three questions for the candidates running for governor: Affordable Housing

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Construction. CD Davidson-Hiers/Florida Phoenix

Today on the Florida Phoenix, we continue our election series, where we ask three questions of the candidates for governor, who face off in the Aug. 28 primary. Each day, we’ll cover a different topic of interest to voters. Today, we ask about affordable housing.

The Republican candidates – Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis – chose not to participate in the “Three Questions” series. The five Democrats running for governor responded, and we present their answers in alphabetical order.

1. There is a shortfall of affordable housing in Florida. What would you do to address this issue? 

Andrew Gillum: 

A safe, clean, affordable place to call home is fundamental – and out of reach for many Floridians. For years, Republican lawmakers have raided the Sadowski and other housing trust funds that make affordable housing possible. As governor, I’ll veto any budget that sweeps these trust funds, and ensure the funding goes directly to affordable housing programs for low-income families, seniors and the disabled. I’ll also fight to ensure our communities can enforce the impact fees and affordable housing set-asides they require of developers. In Tallahassee, we’ve fought for smart growth and to protect the local character of communities. 

Gwen Graham: 

The Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust belongs to the people of Florida who fund it with their tax dollars. As governor, I will respect every dollar the state spends and use them to support families, not special interests. I will veto any raids of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and work with the legislature to invest in affordable housing for Florida families. 

Jeff Greene: 

We could start by not raiding the Sadowski Trust. I mean, $2 billion has been raided out of it, and I think just this year last year $290 million was raided. That’s money that could have produced some affordable housing. The problem is we have a 550,000 unit deficit. You’re not going to solve that with $300 million. Or $2 billion. So we have a really big issue. 

I think the biggest issue that we have with affordable housing is wages. We need to fix our education system. Look at our public schools. U.S. News & World Report says we’re 40th in the country. If we suddenly got to the top five in the country, which is not impossible, what’s that going to mean? Companies with good paying jobs may come here. They can hire kids from great public schools here in Florida. It fixes wages substantially. One of the problems is the jobs that have been created are low paying jobs. 

Chris King: 

I’ve gone all over this state talking about Florida’s affordable housing crisis – and as a result, I believe this campaign has raised attention to the state’s habit of raiding the Sadowski Trust and brought the other candidates to our position. The Florida Legislature has raided over $2 billion from the trust and simply by winning the governor’s race, I will be able to use the power of my line-item veto pen to protect the $1 billion in public and private dollars that make up the trust. We must begin using immediately the affordable housing trust funds for their intended purpose and reap the benefits of leveraging these funds with private enterprise. 

 Philip Levine: 

The lack of affordable housing is at crisis levels. The state of Florida can pair the dollars in the trust fund with low-interest tax-exempt bonds issued by local housing authorities and immediately spur the development of hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units. This can be done immediately and impact would be dramatic. 

2. Should there be more incentives for developers to create affordable housing? If so, what kind? 

Andrew Gillum: 

Incentives can be a reasonable tool to spur the right kind of development – if linked with enforceable, measurable accountability standards. Too often, the incentive check is written without any meaningful way to track and ensure accountability. 

Gwen Graham: N/A 

Jeff Greene:  

Look, this is something I’ve done my whole life. Nobody has built more housing in this race. I understand everything about construction. And what I can tell you is that I think there are advances happening now in construction, just with 3-D printing. Different kinds of resin materials that are able to be used to save foundations as much as 30 percent. 

 Chris King: 

It is critical that we incentivize developers to create affordable housing stock because the only way to address the affordable housing shortage is through public-private partnerships. This is not something the state is equipped or competent to do on its own. We must use both carrots and sticks so that developers understand the commitment our state has to resolving the affordable housing crisis.  There is no longer time for small, token actions to be taken by developers. I will certainly be relying on the best minds and best ideas from far and wide to make sure that we do right by our citizens and give them safe, clean and affordable housing options. 

Philip Levine:

We should enable housing authorities to provide tax-credits and low-cost bonds; this would immediately spur the expansion of the affordable housing stock. 

3. Do you believe the state should invest in improving older, neglected multifamily assets and deem a portion of them affordable for those on the lower economic scale? 

Andrew Gillum:  

Considering the way we slash funding and raid trust funds for existing affordable housing priorities, I would be open to a wide variety of mechanisms that ensure working Floridians have an affordable, accessible place to call home. 

Gwen Graham:

We face an affordable housing crisis. To tackle the challenge, we must think outside the box and consider a wide array of options. 

Jeff Greene:  

It’s got to be a combination. You don’t want the state to become a building contractor. We need to come up with plans to fund every federal program to make sure that we’re maximizing our access to it, and we’ve got to find ways to build affordable housing.

Now one thing we could possibly do and this is something I’m thinking about, we could possibly issue some low interest rate tax-free bonds that we could use to provide a big mortgage pool at below market interest rates to developers who could then be required to build housing that would rent to folks with lower incomes. 

Chris King: 

Improving older assets is part of the solution. So long as it is done in a responsible and economical manner, using existing housing stock can greatly expedite the time frame of providing affordable housing to those who need it.

In addition, preserving existing housing stock can minimize disruptions to neighborhoods and help preserve the neighborhood’s identity. We must understand that we need all hands on deck to solve this affordable housing crisis and building our way out of it will not be possible.  As such, using existing housing stock will be a critical part of the solution. 

Philip Levine: 

We must be very cautious with this approach to affordable housing.  Advocates of rehabilitation often suggest lowering code and safety standards because updating older housing stock can be very costly.  Otherwise, the financing usually does not work.

We must take care: ‘affordable’ must not come to mean ‘inferior.’ The state’s role in affordable housing should be focused on using its financial power to increase housing stock and the need is so great now, we need to go about this the most cost-effective way. Right now, that means new housing. Localities should have a big say in housing and the state can work with them on new approaches to solutions, so this is an idea that can be explored—but not at a compromise to safety and quality. 

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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