The light at the end of Florida’s affordable housing tunnel probably isn’t a train

by | Feb 19, 2023

In Florida, media outlets and other critics (read: Democrats) have long blamed Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee for the state’s ongoing affordable housing shortage, and in particular, they blame so-called “raids” of a Florida based  program called the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund for the escalating “crisis.”

Established in 1992 to provide funding for affordable housing initiatives such as direct financial aid to potential homebuyers and renters, to tax breaks and other incentives paid to developers who build low-cost housing units, The Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust is funded through documentary tax stamp collections on real estate deals, and typically accumulates hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

But each spring for the last 20 years, when lawmakers negotiate a new state budget, they have typically raided, or “swept” some portion of the money out of the Sadowski trust and used it for other purposes. Over those two decades, The Florida Housing Coalition estimates that about $2.2 billion has been redirected for other purposes, often to be spent on other programs with nothing to do with affordable housing. And, they say, that equates to a shortfall of around 177,000 affordable housing units that could have been available, but aren’t.

Yet despite all the finger-pointing and political rhetoric, a deeper dive into available data shows that Florida’s affordable housing crisis isn’t really unique to Florida. Across the United States, housing prices, which include mortgages and rental payments, have climbed dramatically over the last two years thanks to a variety of factors, including just general inflation. Rapidly rising lumber and building material prices has driven up the cost of developing all types of homes, including “affordable” housing units.

Virtually everyone looking for a place to live recently has felt the impact. Data available through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that housing costs (which they track as “shelter”) consumed 34.4% of household budgets last month, and one look at a chart of the growth in the cost of shelter shows that it increased 8 percent since January 2022. That’s the steepest year-over-year climb in housing costs since 1982.

In Florida, the story is nearly identical, whether it’s the CPI data or Zillow’s Observed Rent Index (ZORI), which measures asking rents rather than the rent actually paid by consumers. The latest ZORI data shows Florida’s major metro areas – and even Tallahassee – following the same overall trends as the aggregate United States data:

In short, America’s affordable housing crisis can’t all be pinned on Sadowski trust fund sweeps by Florida lawmakers. The affordable housing crisis is a complex story with roots stretching in all directions, from overzealous local government regulations, to restrictive homeowners associations, to disastrous rent control policies and ruinous inflation and monetary policy.

But even so, Florida’s history of raiding the Sadowski trust fund begs the question: what if Florida had invested $2 billion more in affordable housing initiatives over the last two decades? How much better off might Floridians be if the money had been spent as it was intended?

A spokeswoman for the the Florida Housing Coalition, which has strongly advocated for Sadowsky funding for years, said CEO Ashon Nesbitt was traveling and not available to comment for this story. But a recent public opinion poll by Sachs Media shows that one in five Floridians say the trust fund sweeps have contributed to Florida’s affordable housing problem. And 95 percent of all Floridians agree that Florida is definitely facing an affordable housing crisis.

Politically, those kinds of numbers can’t be ignored. Long before the most recent Sachs media poll, lawmakers in 2021 had already taken steps to shore up the Sadowski trust, at least partially, ensuring that around $200 million per year was guaranteed to go into the program.

This year, however, state lawmakers are looking to do even more to address the issue. Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo recently unveiled a new “Live Local” plan aimed at addressing Florida’s affordable housing issues. The plan includes a provision to increase the availability of affordable housing options for low-to-moderate-income workers, seniors, and veterans in the state. The bill, SB102, offers incentives for private developers to create affordable housing units and provide down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, military families, and veterans.

More directly, it allocates $252 million to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program and $259 million, including $150 million in new recurring funds, to the State Apartment Incentive Loan program (SAIL), both of which are major components of the Sadowski Trust. The proposed legislation has been praised by Florida House Speaker Paul Renner and is therefore likely to pass both chambers of the state legislature sometime in the next few months.

Another affordable housing proposal starting to gain traction is HB 133, sponsored by State Rep. Jim Mooney, which would would authorize landlords to offer tenants an option to pay a smaller monthly fee instead of paying a much larger security deposit up front – cash which many renters just don’t have.

Opponents, though, say the fees amount to little more than a “poor tax,” noting that unlike security deposits, the fees are nonrefundable because they act similar to an insurance policy to protect landlords against property damage. Assurant, Jetty, and LeaseLock are among a handful of security deposit alternative companies pushing for passage of the bill. Rather than fork over around $1,000 to the landlord, which the tenant might get back at the end of a lease, tenants instead would pay about $35 per month, or around $300 per year. While the up front cost for renters is reduced, they won’t get that money back. Last year, the proposal was defeated, and it could suffer the same fate this year.

One final bright spot for renters: Zillow says its ZORI data on rental asking prices is a leading indicator for national trends, with real rents paid trailing ZORI by about one year. And in the last four months of of 2022, Zillow says asking rents actually decreased, which means lower rent prices might start showing up in national data sometime in the second half of 2023. But they also caution that mortgage interest rates haven’t gone down over that same period, and the general direction of the economy is still not entirely clear.

For low and middle income families looking for the light at the end of the housing tunnel?  Take heart. The changes coming in Florida might be the relief they need.


  1. Deborah Coffey

    No, there won’t be a train or anything else for the PEOPLE of Florida with Ron DeSantis and a Republican legislature in charge…ever! I do wonder how the right wing continually gets its base to vote against their own best interests. Is it by diminishing education? Is it by constant lying? Is it by giving that base permission and even encouraging those people to hate others and blame them for their miserable lives? So, that base continues to vote for people who take money away from them (personally as in paying $35/month never to be returned) and their programs! Republicans should keep in mind that not all of us Floridians are that stupid. In the end, they will lose power and Ron DeSantis is hastening that ending. Americans will not stand for Fascism…even undereducated Floridians.

    • Brian Burgess

      So the “train” in the tunnel analogy is bad, in case you didn’t understand.

      • Deborah Coffey

        Well, I just got back from six weeks in Portugal and Spain. What I meant was there will never be a fabulous train system (and inexpensive) or anything else “people friendly” like the Europeans have as long as Republicans are “governing.” I grew up when Ike Eisenhower was president and Republicans believed in building an American middle class, at least for White people. Since then, that political party has shifted that middle class wealth upward to its donors, throwing people into poverty and causing an embarrassing and dangerous wealth gap compared to other developed countries in the Western world. We simply can’t keep defending these failures, Brian.

    • Brian Burgess

      Also, your link is 7 years old… and new data suggests Florida’s rising rents haven’t gone up any faster than anyone else.

        • Brian Burgess

          so, once again, it appears you’re not grasping the concept. YES, Florida’s rent costs have increased. But as your own article states, the same thing is happening all across the nation.

          The point is that while many people – especially Democrats like you – like to point at things like the Sadowski Trust Fund raids as the primary factor in Florida’s rising rent problem, the fact of the matter is that rising rent and decreasing overall affordability is a complex problem that is NOT unique to our state.

          In this most recent link, it mentions that Florida’s median rent is hundreds of dollars higher than states like Georgia and Texas. Well, Florida isn’t those states – believe it or not, people are willing to pay a high premium to live on or near the coast, and Florida has over 1,000 miles of coastline while other states don’t.

          People are moving here in droves, our population is growing, and this is DESPITE the increased rent costs.

          So, I’m not really clear on what your link is supposed to prove that I haven’t already addressed.

          • Deborah Coffey

            Okay. But, you addressed it with your usual amount of spin. Our grandson is a banker in West Palm Beach. He makes a very good living but could not afford the latest rent prices when the guy that owned the house he was renting for years decided to sell the property. He had to buy a trailer and put it in a friend’s back yard. So, this is anecdotal, but it is a sign that Governor DeSantis is not dealing with the huge amount of foreign investing in Florida and the price gouging just like the insurance rates and the refusal to expand Medicaid. When I say there’s nothing Republicans do for “the people” I mean it! They do things for business and for donors on the backs of everyone else. I live in Palm Coast, a city of 100,000 completely in Republican control. The building going on here is out of control with absolutely no infrastructure planned to match it. So, I hear you, but I hope you hear me and understand why I’m a Democrat. We actually like people…women, LGBTQ, immigrants, Blacks, and yes, even the poor. We think we should lift them up, not tear them down. Just sayin’.

    • T. Helmling

      You do realize it’s the Democrats that have caused all this, right? Surely you know this. Do you live here? If so, FYI, I-95 and I-75 will take you right on out to NY where you will surely be much happier, and it will free up housing for someone else who wants to live here. Florida is the best, most free state in the Union right now, and we have the best governor, bar none.

      • Deborah Coffey

        Okay, but how many multimillionaires do you think Florida can afford to lose…because lots of us are seriously considering leaving? If you think we can be replaced by others who actually want Fascist rule, then maybe it won’t matter. Meantime, we’re picking up the tab for millions of Floridians.

  2. Frank Thompson

    In South Florida, the focus is on building luxury rentals, not affordable housing. High property taxes and property insurance for non-homesteaded properties are driving rents up, plus imbalance in demand/supply.

    • Brian Burgess

      Well, Frank, guess what happens when you build more housing of ANY type? The supply and demand curve gives the answer: overall housing costs go down when there’s more available supply, period. If there’s nothing but luxury housing getting built, then those who can afford it move out of their existing luxury housing and into the newer stuff, vacating what was previously top-of-the-line housing for the next tier down… Obviously there’s a lot of complicating factors, such as population growth and higher income people moving to Florida vs. lower income, but generally speaking, more housing of any kind means prices will come down versus where they would have been otherwise, period.

      • Stan Boling

        So, the other states don’t have a SHIP program and they have housing affordability problems too. I don’t know of any serious person overstating the impact of the sweeps out of the program for years but those sweeps reduced units rehabilitated and built and those sweeps were by our one party state government. Our single party state government did not give a proper priority to locally administered affordable housing programs that have been successful for years. So yes, our state government screwed up for years but seems motivated now to do something different.


What is the most glaring political issue facing Floridians ahead of Legislative Session?
%d bloggers like this: