Last week, the Florida Senate passed SB 2512, which, if signed into law in its current form, will carve out nearly a quarter of a billion dollars from Florida’s affordable housing trust fund this year alone, and in future years, will cut similar amounts from the fund automatically. Under the bill, the state’s housing programs would get $200 million next fiscal year, with the remaining $223 million split between two environmental infrastructure programs.
The Florida Realtors Association says those environmental spending programs were not what the trust fund is intended for, pointing out that the Affordable Housing Trust Funds “were designed to help Floridians achieve stable and affordable housing, whereas these environmental projects largely benefit those who already have a home.”
But, Realtors, say, an even bigger issue is the permanent nature of the proposal to carve out 50 percent of the trust every year to use on other projects.
Just this morning, mortgage financier Freddie Mac released a report showing the U.S. housing market 3.8 million homes short of demand, which has driven up prices significantly in the Sunshine State. Realtors say those factors make it increasingly difficult for elderly on fixed incomes, veterans, and low-income families to find a home. In many cases, essential workers, including firefighters and police officers, are forced to live far from the community where they work, but some are required to live in the same location as their department. There is a growing backlog of families waiting for affordable housing assistance.
Fortunately, the Realtors Association says, there is still time for a course correction. The bill faces a budget reconciliation process that has only gotten more favorable in terms of the cash available for lawmakers to spend. Budget forecasts released on April 6th show the state has moved from a projected pandemic-related deficit of $2 billion to just $826 million. Even better, economists say Florida will have a surplus of about $3.5 billion by the beginning of the fiscal year which begins July 1st.
The bill has been passed but lawmakers have wide latitude on how to proceed as they enter the annual budget reconciliation process that has only gotten more favorable in terms of the cash available for them to spend. Budget forecasts released on April 6th show the state has moved from a projected pandemic-related deficit of $2 billion to just $826 million. Even better, economists say Florida will have a surplus of about $3.5 billion by the beginning of the fiscal year which begins July 1st.
That much extra breathing room should give lawmakers more flexibility with the budget, making a permanent 50 percent cut unnecessary. With just over two weeks remaining in the 2021 legislative session, Realtors are hoping lawmakers use the budget conferencing process as a way to find additional money for the much-needed housing programs. Selected groups of legislators from both the House and Senate will meet to negotiate differences between their budget proposals until a final agreement is reached. At that point, the budget would be passed by the Legislature and go to Governor Ron DeSantis for his signature, after which it becomes law.
Florida Realtors and affordable housing activists have ramped up efforts over the past week to urge lawmakers to increase housing funding during the reconciliation process.