This essay, written by Graceful Solutions President Bill Wilson, first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat on March 24, 2018.
Florida was the first state to adopt a dedicated source of funding for affordable housing. A coalition of affordable housing advocates led by the Florida Housing Coalition, builders, realtors, financial institutions and others banded together and pressed the legislature for stable housing funding.
The response was the creation of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Real Estate transactions in the State of Florida are required to have documentary stamps attached when they are filed with the Clerk of the Court. There is a fee for these stamps based on the value of the transaction. The trust fund receives a portion of the documentary stamps that are paid on each real estate transaction.
For a number of years, from 1992 when the fund was established until 2001, all the money from the doc stamps went to the trust fund. In 2001, the legislature starting “sweeping” the trust fund and using the money to balance the state budget.
Apparently, the dedicated source of revenue was no longer dedicated. It was just another source of money the legislature could use to do whatever it wanted. As an example, in 2004/05 the trust fund would have generated $502 million for housing. In that year, the legislature only appropriated $192 million for housing and used the rest of the money for other things.
This past session was no different. The trust fund in the coming fiscal year is projected to generate over $300 million but only $123 million was allocated for housing. The rest was “swept” to fund other activities.
The estimates for the funding that will come to Tallahassee and Leon County this year are $167,323 for Leon and $322,928 for Tallahassee. Most of this money will be used for the City and County rehab programs. If you were using it to build new housing, it would support the development of maybe five homes. That will hardly meet the locally identified need. The recent activity of the Tallahassee Housing Authority identified over 15,000 families seeking affordable housing assistance.
Since 2001 when the sweeping started, the legislature has redirected over $2.5 billion that was supposed to be dedicated to affordable housing to fund other activities. This approach by the legislature had made it difficult for local government to plan because they never know how much money they are going to have from year to year.
The most recent years have been the worst. Since 2008, when the housing crisis hit, the legislature has taken more than 70 percent of the “dedicated housing money” for other purposes. In 2011/12 and 2013/14 the legislature took all the money and didn’t appropriate any for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP). SHIP is the vehicle that moves the trust fund money to local governments to support their housing plans.
The Tallahassee/Leon County Affordable Housing Workgroup recommended that the two commissions consider finding a stable local source of revenue to meet the affordable housing needs in our community. We need a plan to develop more affordable housing and that is going to take a stable funding source.
There are a number of options for funding sources and the two commissions should consider the appointment of a group to study those options, gather citizen input and make recommendations for a stable revenue source for affordable housing. That revenue source needs to be implemented in a way that local government can’t work the same way the legislature does and we continue to have fickle funding for affordable housing.