Florida Realtors has scrapped a campaign to protect affordable housing funds by constraining the Legislature, instead opting to reach a consensus with lawmakers.
On Tuesday, Realtors announced it is abandoning its attempt to gather enough signatures to secure a constitutional amendment that would have permanently blocked the use of the Sadowski Trust Fund for anything other than affordable housing.
Instead the organization will work with legislative leaders on a solution, including establishing new homeownership opportunities targeted at frontline workers. Realtors President Cheryl Lambert said leadership has committed to work with the group to solve the affordable housing crisis.
“This crisis cannot wait,” Lambert said. “Every day, we hear about workers who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic who can’t afford a home. This approach will help bring homeownership within reach of Floridians much faster.”
Sweeping affordable housing funds has been a political flashpoint for more than a decade.
This past Legislative Session lawmakers again “raided” the Sadowski Trust Fund, but only after Republicans under Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls forged a deal this year, approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that created a predictable funding source for housing dollars.
However, that plan came at the cost of siphoning off more than half of the funds that had been earmarked for affordable housing since 1992, which Democrats and housing advocates likened to a permanent sweep. The reallocated dollars are to be split between sea level rise mitigation and wastewater grants.
Florida Realtors created a political committee called Floridians For Housing in March, and Realtors and other groups stocked it with more than $13 million to back the constitutional amendment. As of Tuesday evening, the Florida Division of Elections website showed Floridians for Housing had collected 222,898 of the required 891,589 petition signatures needed in less than five months to make the ballot.
The difficulty collecting signatures is said to be a factor in the Realtors’ decision to halt their campaign. A larger factor, however, was the ire its campaign was drawing from Republican legislative leadership.
In the days after the ballot initiative, Sprowls criticized the Realtors’ efforts as a “self-serving, special interest agenda.” And Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, who is on track to be the next Senate President, has actively worked to get Realtors to scrap the initiative.
On Wednesday, Simpson and Sprowls praised Realtors for their decision to find a legislative solution. In a joint statement, they noted a long history of cooperation between the group and the Legislature and emphasized the need the COVID-19 pandemic raises for housing solutions for first responders and teachers..
“Housing challenges impacting our state and the entire nation have placed a tremendous burden on hard-working Floridians trying to pursue their dream of homeownership, and we are committed to doing what we can at the state level to help more Florida families overcome this challenge,” Simpson and Sprowls said.
In July, Passidomo told reporters she took Realtors’ campaign personally. But the Naples Republican said she has worked with Realtors the entire summer “to strengthen affordable housing opportunities in Florida.”
“We agree that affordable housing is absolutely essential to our state — for our families, for our workforce and for our economy. We must ensure that the state’s investment in affordable housing is spent judiciously, and that our first responders, health care workers, teachers and other critical professions are able to benefit from the opportunities available,” Passidomo said in a statement provided to Florida Politics. “I look forward to continuing our work with the realtors, property owners, affordable housing advocates and other key stakeholders across the state toward our shared mission of providing safe, accessible and affordable places for Floridians to live, work and raise a family.”
Florida Realtors’ new plan is to increase homeownership opportunities while preserving rental assistance programs.
Realtors CEO Margy Grant said she is pleased by legislative leaders’ agreement to find common ground, including on a homeownership program for frontline workers.
“Frontline workers are the absolute foundation of our communities, something that has been made even more apparent during this pandemic. They are putting their lives and health on the line every day to benefit those around them, yet Florida has no homeownership program in place to ensure that these heroes can live in the communities where they work,” Grant said.
Committee meetings for the 2022 Session will begin the week of Sept. 20. The 60-day Legislative Session will start Jan. 11.