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Sen. Keith Perry asks a question of the affordable housing panel that appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee.

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Senators workshop fixes for affordable housing crisis

The rent, as the saying goes, is too damn high.

With rents increasing faster than pay in much of Florida, a state Senate committee contemplated recurrent issues with affordable housing Wednesday.

Legislation that made affordable housing mandates “voluntary” was signed into law last year. And Sadowski Trust money has been raided in recent years.

Before the 2018 Session, then-Gov. Rick Scott recommended sweeping $91.8 million from the then-$314 million Sadowski Trust. Lawmakers moved $182 million from the pool.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended fully funding the trust, but more than $110 million was moved to the Panhandle in the wake of Hurricane Michael. Ultimately, just $85 million of a proposed $338 million allocation was spent on its actual purpose.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development was tasked with hearing solutions to problems decades in the making, a function of housing and land prices that increase well beyond wages for working individuals and families.

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“We’ve kind of shied away from policies,” chairman Sen. Travis Hutson said. “What the committee wants to know from a policy perspective is what we can do.”

“Our affordable housing crisis is linked to our homeless crisis,” Hutson added, urging “policy ideas” from stakeholders.

Ability Housing of Jacksonville had its suggestions for workforce and homeless housing.

Shannon Nazworth, on behalf of the organization, suggested impact fees imposed on developers.

“How you do that legally, I don’t know,” Nazworth said.

A representative of the St. Johns Housing Partnership, which helps low-income seniors stay in homes, outlined their problem: a thousand-person waitlist.

They were able to help 150 people in the last year.

Housing costs are surging in St. Johns County, well beyond the reach of the service industry workers that keep the county running. Twenty-five percent of workers commute to the county from Putnam or Duval.

Zoning can be key. Some areas primed for low-income housing development may be zoned as agricultural.

Suburban development is also an issue. Mega-shopping areas are often built far away from where workers can afford to live.

A “linkage fee” to build affordable housing was also suggested, but it’s hard to imagine that getting through the House and the Senate.

Danielle Scoggins, who handles public policy for Florida Realtors, suggested “assistance” for renters who need down payment or closing cost assistance.

Kyle Shepherd, director of Intergovernmental Relations for Orlando, discussed how his city has removed “red tape.”

“Orlando is ground zero for our affordable housing crisis,” Shepherd said, noting that the area has “the most severe disparity” when it comes to matching affordable housing to the people who need it.

Other Florida cities, Shepherd said, follow similar patterns.

“We have a lot of people who want to live here, and that means there’s a stress on the supply of housing in Florida,” the Orlando official said.

Young people preferring smaller homes is a trend that heartens Shepherd. Since 1950, the average home went from 968 to 2,600 square feet, even as families have gotten smaller.

If that trend can be made to hold, it can be augmented by zoning and incentives, such as “density bonuses.”

Florida Association of Counties was represented by its President, Commissioner Nick Maddox, who brought things back full circle.

He spotlighted the Sadowski Fund sweeps as critically detrimental to local efforts to provide affordable housing.

“The only barrier to us reducing our waiting list” was how Maddox described Sadowski shortfalls.

“I appreciate what the Senate and Governor have done in the past,” Maddox said, urging the Senate to “stay in that lane” and attempt to go a budget year without eviscerating the fund.

Beyond Sadowski concerns, Maddox advanced the idea of an affordable housing “land bank,” which he would like state help with.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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