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Broward commissioners reject proposal to use tourism dollars for affordable housing

Dan Lindblade, President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, speaks at a county commission meeting Tuesday Oct. 10, 2023.
Broward County
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Dan Lindblade, President and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, speaks at a county commission meeting Tuesday Oct. 10, 2023.

Broward commissioners rejected a proposal that would have pushed the Florida Legislature to allow them to use millions of tourism tax dollars for affordable housing.

Tourism and business leaders pushed back on the proposal during Tuesday's commission meeting. The county administration sought to make it a legislative priority.

"We're not against affordable housing at all, but we want this money to stay focused on what it's intent is, and that's to market the destination," said Dan Lindblade, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.

Others argued that the tourism industry's 93,000 employees also contribute to the Broward economy.

Commissioner Nan Rich, the commission's most vocal advocate for affordable housing, pointed out that employees of hotels are finding it hard to afford housing in a county that's become one of the most expensive markets in the nation.

"We are a great tourist destination, but we need to have employees," she said. "For anybody to think that we are going to be able to find housing for all of these employees who are coming in with all of these hotel rooms that are going to be built is, you know, it's just not reality."

The county is expected to have an additional 7,325 hotel rooms by 2031, according toVisit Lauderdale.

Last year, the tourism tax earned the county more than $126 million, according to Visit Lauderdale, the county's tourism department.

Currently the money is used for buying, building, improving or marketing attractions like convention centers, stadiums and museums. It's also used for hotels, parks and beaches.

Had the commission OK'd the proposal, it would have directed county lobbyists to press lawmakers to change the law on how local governments allocate revenue from the tourism development tax.

Most commissioners opposed

"I think it's a bad idea for multiple reasons," said Commissioner Steve Geller, who compared taking money from the tourism fund to the state taking money from the Sadowski Trust fund, which is supposed to be used for affordable housing.

Tim Pertillo, who owns a restaurant-group, shared a similar concern:

"Once we open this door, the door will remain open and people will continue to try to get after these funds," he said.

The Broward County Tourism Coalition Committee sent a letter dated Oct. 5 to county commissioners to push against the discussion.

"The Florida Statue for the Tourist Development Tax was not designed for the use of Affordable Housing and any expansion for other than its intent should not be granted." the letter read.

The county is in the process of constructing an 800-room hotel on the site of their convention center — which will cost around $1 billion.

Some commissioners worried taking money away from marketing for the new hotel would kneecap the efforts made in building it.

"I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure that we that we get out of the gate very successful, and that means using all the resources we've got," said Commissioner Beam Furr.

Housing for service workers

Proponents of using tourism tax dollars for affordable housing argue that adding more hotel rooms to the county means hiring more staff to manage them, to clean rooms and to maintain the properties. And those staff, in turn, need affordable housing.

The median monthly rent for an apartment or home in South Florida was $2,511, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors. That’s the seventh−highest among U.S. metro areas. The data covers the metro areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and includes up to two bedrooms.

The commission has appropriated money to help stem the affordable housing crisis.

In June, commissioners approved $12.9 millionin "gap financing" to fund the development of 340 new affordable homes in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Lauderhill. The commission has said it has allocated more than $100 million since 2018 to build more than 2,500 affordable homes.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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