The state collects a tax to fund affordable housing. Once again, the Legislature is swiping millions to spend on other things

A modest foreclosed home in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images

For the eleventh year in a row, state lawmakers plan to swipe millions from a state fund that’s supposed to go to solve Florida’s affordable housing crisis and instead will use it for other things.

Lawmakers have tentatively reached agreement on plan to shift more than $130 million out of the state affordable housing trust fund. The money comes from a tax on Florida real estate transactions, and years ago, it was earmarked to help Floridians with a pressing need: an affordable place to live.

This year’s tentative plan would still provide about $200 million for affordable housing in the new budget year, which begins July 1. But potentially, lawmakers could have spent more than $330 million worth of tax money that’s supposed to be set aside for affordable housing.

With the state budget flush this year and the need for affordable housing acute with rising rents and flat wages in the state’s metro regions, advocates say they “haven’t heard any explanation for not using the full amount of the (housing) trust fund dollars.” That’s from Jaimie Ross, president of the nonprofit Florida Housing Coalition, who says her group is “disappointed” that the tax money collected and specifically earmarked for affordable housing is once again being diverted.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended full funding for the program in his budget proposal. And the Senate started out the budget process with a plan that didn’t deplete the affordable housing fund.

By swiping – they call it a ‘sweep’ at the Capitol –  $130 million from the fund this year, lawmakers will have taken more than $1.5 billion out of the housing program to use for other things since 2009, according to a recent analysis by Florida TaxWatch.

Ross says the need to spend a portion of the housing money on the hurricane-damaged counties is understandable.

“But why there is a sweep at all of the housing trust monies has not been really articulated or at least I haven’t heard it,” Ross said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, says the demand for affordable housing in her urban district remains a top concern for residents.

“It’s not good enough,” Eskamani said about the latest affordable housing plan. “I think that voters in our community and constituents still wish to see an affordable housing trust fund that is not swept.”

She says the Legislature needs to pass a ban on raiding affordable housing money. Lawmakers filed legislation to do just that this year, but the bills did not advance.

Lawmakers spent $123 million on affordable housing programs this year.

For next year, the $200 million proposal includes $77.6 million for affordable housing programs around state; $115 million for housing efforts in the counties damaged by Hurricane Michael; and $8 million for a housing project in Jacksonville.




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