A win for affordable housing in Florida

Residents at The Arc of Bradford County home

Florida lawmakers have agreed to fully fund the state affordable housing program in the coming year, a significant policy development that impacts struggling Floridians who face rising costs and low wages.

Over the weekend, House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to spend $370 million for affordable housing initiatives. It is in line with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had urged full funding for the housing programs.

Housing advocates and lawmakers push for affordable rent for Floridians, and other measures. Photo credit by Danielle J. Brown.

The Legislature’s decision is a significant particularly for the state House, which in recent years had been successful in shifting money from the housing program to other state priorities.

Over the last two decades, lawmakers have swept more than $2 billion from the housing programs, which are funded by a portion of the real-estate tax on property sales, to other spending priorities.

In the current year, lawmakers approved $200 million for the housing programs, including $115 million for areas impacted by Hurricane Michael in 2018. But they also shifted more than $125 million in housing funds to other non-housing programs.

In the new budget year, which begins July 1, the entire $370 million will be spent on affordable housing, which is critical in a state where many workers face rising housing costs and low wages.

“A family shouldn’t see all of their money consumed by rent because of our high real estate prices,” Rep. Kionne McGhee, the Miami-Dade lawmaker who leads the House Democrats, said in a statement.

“Today is a positive move towards a bold agenda to address the lack of affordable housing in our state,” McGhee said. “I am proud of my colleagues in both the House and Senate. I would like to personally thank Gov. Ron DeSantis for prioritizing this issue.”

The Florida Phoenix has written extensively about the plight of Floridians who have found it difficult to find affordable housing, particularly for disabled residents.

One Phoenix story in the fall described what it means to have a home, showing a modest brick house with a metal roof and white shutters in Bradford County. Thanks to the state’s affordable housing program, The Arc of Bradford County received $210,000 to renovate the home, allowing housing for six women with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

The 2019 “Home Matters” report from the Florida Housing Coalition makes the case that providing housing for Floridians with disabilities or lower-income seniors saves the state money in the long run.

“Studies show that home and community-based services for elderly as well as permanently supportive housing for persons with disabilities are significantly more cost effective than institutionalized care or relying on jails and emergency rooms,” the report said. “An investment in affordable housing is fiscally responsible, with a significant return on investment.”