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Compromise To Reallocate Affordable Housing Money For Environment Projects Heads to Governor's Desk

Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against a proposal to permanently reallocate dollars away from affordable housing programs, they say need to be fully funded.
Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against a proposal to permanently reallocate dollars away from affordable housing programs, they say need to be fully funded.

The Florida Legislature has passed a measure meant to permanently reallocate funds from the state's affordable housing programs to help pay for the governor's environmental initiatives. But a compromise will cap future sweeps of the affordable housing fund.

An initial proposal would have taken about two-thirds of the dollars typically allocated for state and local government housing projects and reallocated the money for environmental spending. A new plan returns some of those affordable housing funds—leaving the programs with a minimum of $200 million rather than the initially proposed $141 million. Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) sponsored the change.

"In the appropriations committee, there was some robust discussion about this bill and the distributions and concerns about the funding levels, specifically on the affordable housing piece. So, what the amendment does is it changes the distribution in this way," Albritton says.

Some of the money currently allocated for affordable housing will permanently go toward the new Resilient Florida Trust Fund to help communities combat the impacts of sea level rise and flooding. It will also support a wastewater grant program. Lawmakers are planning to give those programs about $111 million each. But not everyone is on board with the plan. Senate Democrats have raised concerns about the proposal. Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) is one of them.

"There's the constant sweeping of the affordable trust fund that we've had every year, I think since its inception, and there's such a huge need for it. It's like the one issue that every single one of our districts can agree upon," Polsky says.

Polsky says she appreciates the bump in money to affordable housing compared to what lawmakers had originally pitched this year. But she says the proposed $200 million is not enough.

"Supply and demand. There is not enough supply of general housing, and with real estate prices going up and up, that just means that even the lowest level of housing has gone up and so every time we have more money in doc stamps means we have more need for affordable housing at the lower levels," Polsky says.

Polsky also says permanently redirecting dollars that had been earmarked for affordable housing could backfire if there's another housing crisis.

"We're not going to be able to use all the money that the housing fund has because now we're required to put it towards other projects. And those projects are worthy, but I believe that there are other areas where we can take that money from," Polsky says.

During a discussion on the House version of the bill, Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) asked if lawmakers could use federal dollars from COVID-19 aid to fund those environmental projects:

"Could we use American Rescue Plan money to fulfill the same goal of this legislation? Do we have to use money out of the affordable housing trust funds?"

Sponsor of the House bill Rep. Josie Tomkow (R-Auburndale) points out that lawmakers could put more money into affordable housing programs. She says the proposed $200 million are just a minimum.

"We are putting this dollar amount as the minimum that this trust fund can receive, and by doing that is to say that if more money does come our way, it can be added. But us as a state legislature are saying no more can this be swept, and this is the minimum amount that it will be set as," Tomkow says.

Senate President Wilton Simpson has cheered the move, saying the documentary stamp tax's new distributions will ensure a steady stream of funding in three key areas of infrastructure—affordable housing, wastewater, and mitigation of sea-level rise. The proposal is now heading to the governor's desk.

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