The raiding of the Sadowski Trust has become the annual tradition lawmakers promise never to repeat, but do so every year. Now, a new bill seeks to add accountability to the process.
State Rep. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat, filed legislation (HB 353) requiring repayment of trust dollars not spent on affordable housing.
“I believe the funds should be reimbursed if swept so that desperately-needed affordable housing in all of Florida, and specifically in areas of urgent need, remain a priority in the budget.” Polsky said.
State Sen. Lori Berman, who filed companion legislation (SB 1504) in the Senate, said working families need this spending properly used.
“The creation of affordable housing in our state is imperative for the success of Florida’s working families,” she said.
Of course, rallying for dollars ahead of Session has always been easy. Last year, lawmakers seemed poised to pass a budget with the State Housing Trust Fund and Local Government Housing Trust Fund intact.
Then came Parkland. After a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, lawmakers swept millions from Sadowski to pay for school security.
“Isn’t there always something?” said Jaimie Ross, CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition. “Before Parkland, why was it swept away then?”
In 2017, then-Gov. Rick Scott used money for economic development. And this year, there’s already threats the funding could pay for recovery efforts after Hurricane Michael.
Gov. Ron DeSantis in unveiling his annual budget took a different tack than Scott. He left the Sadowski dollars completely intact.
Polsky applauded the move, but knows things can change during Session.
“While we are very pleased that Governor DeSantis has indicated that the Sadowski Fund will not be raided this year,” she said, “this legislation will ensure that we hold the Legislature accountable to use the money for its intended purpose.”
Local government needs some guarantee behind the dollars. The trust since 1992 has been funded through document stamp revenue collected locally, but it’s misuse has become so commonplace many expect a raid.
But the need for affordable housing only grows throughout the state,
“The cost of housing continues to far exceed the pace of salary increases, therefore, the housing cost and salary gap continues to widen and the need for Sadowski funds become even more critical to our communities,” said Verdenia Baker, Palm Beach County Administrator.
“No one should have to choose between paying for their rent or putting food on the table,” Berman said.
“By protecting the dollars in the Sadowski Trust Fund we are taking a critical step in ensuring a prosperous future for all Floridians.”