House budget chief says an affordable housing fund sweep is likely in House budget plan

FL Legislature Budget chairmen Travis Cummings (left) and Rob Bradley talk to reporters about state 2019 budget negotiations. LLoyd Dunkelberger photo.

Despite a plea to fully fund affordable housing programs in the new state budget, the House’s top budget leader says his chamber is likely to look again at shifting some of the housing money to other spending priorities in the 2020-21 budget.

“If I was to predict, I would say that we’re going to take a hard look at that. We were pleased last year that the sweep was not maybe as much as it had been in the past, which I think is a victory for affordable workforce housing, which the need is great through the state,” House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings told reporters after his budget committee met on Tuesday.

Cummings, a Clay County Republican, said for the House to advance a “responsible” budget, “we’ll probably take a hard and serious look at sweeping at some level.” He cited other pressing needs in the new budget including a troubled prison system, education initiatives, and health-care programs.

In the current budget, lawmakers approved $200 million for the affordable housing programs, but shifted another $125 million in housing funds to other areas of the budget, despite support from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Senate to fully fund the programs.

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.

DeSantis in his proposed $91.4 billion state budget for 2020-21 has recommended lawmakers fully fund the affordable housing programs at $387 million.

Cummings also cast doubt on legislation (SB 306 and HB 381) that would prohibit lawmakers from shifting any of the housing money to other spending priorities.

“I just think it probably would be irresponsible for the Legislature particularly to tie future legislators’ hands because we don’t know what’s coming,” Cummings said, citing the possibility of future hurricanes and recessions.

Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, said the bills would elevate the housing trust funds to a more protected level in the annual budget process, similar to how transportation trust funds are now treated. But she said the housing money could still be used for other priorities during emergencies.

State lawmakers will make their decisions on the housing funds as well as a new state budget when their annual session begins on Jan. 14.