Florida lawmakers divert affordable housing money to ‘hometown heroes’

TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers are seeking to divert $100 million in affordable housing funds to help “hometown heroes” like nurses, police officers and teachers pay their closing costs and down payments on new homes.

Under a plan agreed to by House and Senate budget negotiators, the money would come from $209 million earmarked for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program, known as SHIP.

This program is for cities and counties to establish affordable housing policies, including emergency repair funding for low-income homeowners, down payments and closing cost assistance, and construction and l acquisition of properties for affordable housing.

Under the legislature’s plan, nearly half of that money would go to a new “hometown hero” program set up by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Related: Florida tenants scramble for shelter as affordable housing erodes

Who would be considered a “local hero” and how the program would work was undecided.

A proposal Senate bill this session would create a similar “hometown hero” program for police, firefighters, 911 operators, teachers, paramedics, healthcare workers and home health aides. Under the bill, eligible participants would have to be first-time home buyers whose family income does not exceed 150% of the state or local median income, whichever is greater.

This proposed program would have offered loans at 0% interest rates for down payments and closing costs up to 5% or $25,000, whichever is lower. Loans should be repaid when the property is sold, refinanced, leased or transferred.

But this bill did not pass this year and there are only a few days left in the legislative session.

Florida rents and housing costs have been skyrocketing for years, and the problem has been compounded by legislature decisions over the years. divert money non-housing issues.

Last year, lawmakers announced a new deal to permanently cut state affordable housing dollars. Under this plan, one-third of the affordable housing dollars are spent on environmental and flooding projects, one-third on sewage treatment programs, and the rest on affordable housing, which would be permanently protected.

The Legislature could have paid for the new “hometown heroes” program without taking affordable housing funds, said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, which provides training and technical assistance on related issues. to housing.

Although the new program has a “good focus,” she said, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget fully funded the state’s affordable housing programs.

“It is regrettable that the Legislative Assembly did not follow the Governor’s recommendation,” she said in a statement.

The idea to divert affordable housing money this year came from House Republican leaders, who wanted to help Floridians establish equity in assets, said Rep. Jayer Williamson, R-Pace.

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“It’s the position of the House, that we’re trying to promote homeownership,” Williamson said last week.

Affordable housing in Florida is a crisis largely due to a lack of affordable rental housing. In South Florida, rents increased by 34% last year in certain places.

According to a Harvard housing indexFlorida renters spend a higher percentage of their income on rent than those in all other states, including California.

“I think home ownership is a wonderful goal,” said Elizabeth Strom, a professor at the University of South Florida who studies urban planning and affordable housing.

However, approximately 35% of state residents are renters, a figure that has remained stable despite the booming housing industry in the state.

“We can’t all live in single family homes,” Strom said. “I think we are making the problem worse.”

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