Fla. lawmakers call to stop legislative sweeps of affordable housing funds

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 22, 2017, 6:47 PM EST

As tens of thousands of low-income families displaced by this year's hurricanes struggle to find affordable housing in Florida, a chorus of lawmakers are calling for an end to legislative sweeps of the state's affordable housing trust fund.

  • Lawmakers call to end sweeps of affordable housing trust fund
  • HB 191 would bar transfers for non-housing purposes
  • Afforable housing demand expected to grow w/ hurricane evacuees

New legislation (HB 191) would bar transfers of the fund for non-housing related purposes.

Over the past decade, Florida's Republican leaders have diverted nearly $1 billion from the fund to help pay for tax cuts and bridge budget deficits.

As a result of the sweeps, the fund is now only able to subsidize housing for one-fifth of the low-income Floridians who have applied for assistance.

As evacuees from Puerto Rico and other storm-battered areas continue to stream into Florida, the demand for help is expected to grow.

"Florida's proud to open our arms to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands who need refuge or intend to establish a new residence here, but we must have more housing opportunities to allow that to happen," said the legislation's sponsor, Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa).

"It's time we stop the sweeping of the affordable trust fund."

But blocking the sweeps could be a difficult sell in Tallahassee's current fiscal climate. State economists are projecting a budget deficit due to impacts from Hurricane Irma, and Gov. Rick Scott is proposing another round of tax cuts as his time in office draws to a close.

With the state's reserve account being rapidly depleted as a result of hurricane recovery efforts, the legislature's budget writers will almost certainly need to devise creative solutions for making ends meet.

Affordable housing advocates, however, say the most effective long-term solution of all would be to stop the trust fund sweeps. They estimate the $314 million allocated to the fund through real estate taxes this year could generate 30,000 jobs, resulting in a $4 billion positive economic impact.

"When you ask about the budget, there's no better thing that Florida can do for its budget than to use all the housing trust funds for housing," said Florida Housing Coalition President and CEO Jamie Ross.