ORLANDO, Fla. — Call it a house divided: The Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate could be at odds over whether to fund affordable housing projects, and by how much.
- Sadowski Fund meant to help with affordable housing in Florida
- State lawmakers used at least $2B for other issues over past 20 years
- Florida House wants to use money from fund again this year
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That very debate puts people like Shirona Barnes in peril.
“If I can get a little help, I can do this,” Barnes said.
She gave us a tour of her home she shares with her two young sons. It's a single unit at a public housing complex within the city of Orlando. Her home is one of at least 1,000 public housing units with an unknown demolition date.
- NOTE: Spectrum News 13 and MyNews13.com are featuring a series on affordable housing this week, showcasing the stories of people facing housing challenges and what local leaders are doing to respond to the crisis. If you'd like to weigh in, head to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
That decision leaves families such as Barnes' with the ultimate fate of having to move.
But it's a cost that Barnes cannot afford: The hairdresser with an unstable income can't afford the application fees for area apartments, much less the rent and upfront costs to move.
Orange County estimates the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is between $1,200 and $1,400. And many housing companies require applicants to earn three times the rate of rent to qualify. They also may demand first month's rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit up front. For a $1,200-per-month apartment, a person could be facing $3,600 they have to come up with, even if they qualify.
“We should be getting more and can help pay for projects that will create a supply of affordable housing we so desperately need,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said.
In 1992, Florida lawmakers tried to provide a permanent means to address the affordable housing problem when they created the Sadowski Fund.
When a property is bought or sold in the state of Florida, some of the real estate document processing is taxed, generating at present time about $350 million. That money is directed into the Sadowski Fund.
But not all of it is actually used for affordable-housing initiatives. Fund administrators estimate Florida lawmakers have drawn at least $2 billion from the Sadowski Fund over the past 20 years for initiatives unrelated to affordable housing.
“The fund has been raided time and time again for other needs,” Eskamani said.
For the 2020 Legislative session, the Florida House is proposing to pull $240 million out of the self-generated Sadowski Fund for other projects, while the Senate and Gov. Ron DeSantis are proposing for the first time in years to keep the funding fully intact.
In an open letter to lawmakers and House Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings, the Sadowski Coalition wrote:
“…The Governor’s budget, which includes using all the Sadowski Trust funds for housing, is a responsible budget; we respectfully urge the House to take this same responsible action. To do otherwise is to increase the housing crisis and hurt Florida’s economy. Using all the housing turst funds for housing generates 30,000 jobs and more than $4 billion in positive economic benefit, in addition to providing homes for Florida’s workforce, veterans, and most vulnerable populations.”
“The biggest issue we had when I was governor: Land costs went up so fast that it impacted our ability to do that. I know it’s something we have to keep addressing,” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) said.
As Florida’s previous governor, Scott still faces criticism for signing budgets that included legislative cuts to the Sadowski Fund — a notion he now appears to disagree with.
“It has to be properly funded. It has to go toward affordable housing. It’s got to be directed around the state where it has the biggest impact,” Scott said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings argues the county is one of the biggest revenue generators for the fund yet does not receive its fair share in return.
It's a point echoed by the Sadowski Coalition, which estimates Orange County would have received $16,223,427 in affordable housing funding in fiscal year 2019-2020 had the Sadowski Fund been fully funded. Instead, with legislative budget swipes, Orange County received $1,870,106.
On top of that, the National Low Income Housing Coalition ranks the Orlando metro area of Orlando, Kissimmee, and Sanford as the least affordable place to live, where a large portion of residents earn minimum wage in the largely tourism economy.
In Orange County alone, it is estimated 110,000 families are “rent burdened,” and statewide at least 990,000 Floridians spend more than half of their income on rent.
As for Barnes, she's hopeful that local governments can begin moving swiftly to create assistance programs and housing projects where families can find stability.
“It’s overwhelming,” Barnes said. “But, I have to bring myself back and think; I have to keep pushing. I have to keep going. This is another day, I’m not below ground, and I’m above ground and right day for a brighter future.”
WEDNESDAY: Spectrum News 13 and MyNews13.com will continue this week’s series on affordable housing by looking at the expansive need for housing and how local governments are responding. We speak with Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings to find out what his Affordable Housing Task Force has accomplished.