Affordable housing advocates launch anti-sweep ballot proposal

Affordable Housing
The group wants to use the Constitution to allay concerns a current anti-sweep measure is temporary.

Housing advocates have filed a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent the Legislature from sweeping affordable housing funds, a process that has been a political flashpoint for more than a decade.

Floridians For Housing, a political committee created in late March by the Florida Realtors, last week filed a ballot measure that would dedicate 25% of documentary stamp taxes to a trust fund that can only be used for increasing affordable housing access and availability.

The state’s affordable housing trust funds were expected to receive more than $420 million for the upcoming fiscal year before Republicans struck a deal to permanently split the affordable housing funds between housing and environmental efforts, leaving about $200 million for affordable housing. However, part of that deal was to place the affordable housing trust funds in a pot that lawmakers can’t redirect into the general revenue pool.

Still, housing advocates likened that to permanently sweeping half of what the affordable housing trust funds are supposed to receive. And the Legislature could renege on their agreement and pass a new law permitting further sweeps again.

Codifying the anti-sweeping provision within the Florida Constitution would create a high hurdle for future sweeps.

“The recent law that permanently cuts the funding of these housing programs by 50% puts them in serious jeopardy, and (Florida Realtors) agree that it’s time to take action,” Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert said in a statement. “After extensive consultation with our members and other housing stakeholders, we have decided to launch a citizens ballot initiative that will ask voters in 2022 to permanently prevent the use of housing trust fund dollars for anything other than the critically-needed housing programs they were designed to support.”

Floridians For Housing has raised more than $5 million since launching at the end of March.

The 2020-21 budget was the first approved since the 2007-08 fiscal year that didn’t redirect part of the affordable housing fund to other purposes. However, Gov. Ron DeSantis used federal CARES Act dollars to fill in a gap he created by veto because of the pandemic.

After sweeps, state housing fund appropriations have averaged $160 million annually over the last five years, less than the coming year’s allocation. On top of that, the state has also received an average of $542 million each year from the federal government.

Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls brought forward this year’s affordable housing, sea level rise and wastewater grant deal (SB 2512), billed as a way to permanently fund the state’s infrastructure priorities. Initially they proposed a three-way split, but DeSantis intervened behind the scenes, adding about $60 million back to affordable housing.

Florida Realtors and other groups behind the effort to put a portion of documentary stamp taxes, effectively 10 cents per $100 of real estate transactions, toward affordable housing. That proposal, called the Sadowski Act, passed in 1992.

The state’s affordable housing trust funds the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program and the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program. Florida Realtors called the fund an invaluable tool for combating an escalating affordable housing crisis.

“They are often the only resource available to help essential workers like nurses, firefighters, teachers and first-responders achieve the American dream of homeownership,” Lambert said.

The ballot effort must get 222,898 signatures for an initial judicial and financial review. After passing review, the measure needs a total of 891,589 signatures to get on the 2022 ballot, where it will need the approval of 60% of voters.

DeSantis last month signed a bill capping donations to political committees targeting constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature-gathering process. That begins July 1 and would apply to Floridians for Housing, complicating its effort.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at r[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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