Gov. Ron DeSantis gives his State of the State speech during the opening day of session for the Florida Legislature Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
(Photo: Tori Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)
Gov. Ron DeSantis should remain true to his word.
He wanted every penny in an affordable-housing trust fund to go to providing what has become a scarce resource in Florida — affordable housing. However, the Legislature fell short of the governor’s wishes.
When the legislation hits his desk, DeSantis should veto the portion of the bill that robs $125 million from the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund and dumps it into general revenue, or "Nowheres-land," as Jaimie Ross, facilitator of the Sadowski Coalition told the Editorial Board on Tuesday.
Here’s what happened: When DeSantis sent Florida lawmakers his budget in advance of the 2019 legislative session, it included about $350 million that the Sadowski fund was estimated to contain. The trust fund is named after a progressive secretary of the Department of Community Affairs, Bill Sadowski, killed in a plane crash in 1992. It is funded by a portion of the documentary stamp tax levied when property is sold.
The governor’s insistence that the trust fund not be raided like a piggy bank, as was done throughout his predecessor’s tenure, was welcome and responsible recognition of the dire lack of affordable housing for low-wage families and, increasingly, middle-class families in Florida.
The state Senate rightly agreed with the governor and fully funded the trust fund in its budget. The state House, however, went rogue. Lawmakers said money should go only to the Panhandle, still recovering, unfortunately, from Hurricane Michael.
The storm hit with a vengeance in 2018. But, astonishingly, the House didn’t allocate funds for anywhere else in the state. When the two versions went to conference, House and Senate leaders negotiated a compromise: $115 million for counties affected by Hurricane Michael; $85 million for the rest of the state, split between two programs: the State Apartment Incentive Loan program (SAIL), which provides "gap financing" for developers to build rental units that lower-wage families can afford; and the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP), a program that offers counties flexibility depending on community needs.
For instance, money can help make desperately needed home repairs; or retrofit a house for a disabled resident; or bolster a first-time homebuyer’s down payment. So far, so good, housing advocates said. But the last provision of the negotiated legislation was a slap in the face: $125 million would be "swept" into general revenue where, Ross said, "They can’t say what it’s going for."
A study released this month found that Miami’s affordable housing crisis is so acute that it would take at least 50,000 units just to meet the existing need. According to the Connect Capital Miami Report, 71 percent of households in the city are renters, and 61 percent of those are "cost-burdened," meaning they are paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent.
It’s clear that the city can’t afford to lose its share of the $125 million now slated for general revenue. In a year with no state deficit, it’s an irresponsible move.
If the governor vetoes just the line item sweeping the $125 million into general revenue, it will remain in the fund to be used next year, appropriately, it is hoped. DeSantis should stay true to his word and make clear that he no longer wants the Sadowski fund wantonly raided when the need for affordable housing is so great across the state.