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Proposed Amendment Would Protect Affordable Housing in Fla.

Doc stamp money in Fla.’s affordable housing trust funds should be used for affordable housing, but the Florida Legislature often “sweeps” it into general revenue. A constitutional amendment proposed by Florida Realtors would change that and secure ongoing support for housing in Fla.

ORLANDO, Fla. – On Friday, the Florida Department of State gave initial approval to a constitutional amendment proposal, which will be overseen by a political committee known as “Floridians for Housing,” which is backed by Florida Realtors®. If approved by Florida voters, it will guarantee that money flowing into the state’s affordable housing trust funds be used exclusively for affordable housing.

The group hopes voters will be able to consider the amendment in 2022.

Affordable housing trust funds background

In 1992, the Sadowski Act became law in Florida. It created a dedicated revenue source for the state’s affordable housing programs, with the fund endowed with money raised through documentary stamp taxes paid on each home sale. Florida’s Realtors® backed the Sadowski Act because the industry supports affordable housing.

However, the Florida Legislature often “sweeps” trust fund money into general revenue, leaving less for lower-income Floridians who need a roof over their heads – a group that often includes front-line workers, such as nurses, firefighters and police.

“We have asked lawmakers each year to use the dollars in the trust funds for housing. After all, that was their intended purpose,” says Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert. In many years, “our advocacy efforts have been successful, with hundreds of millions of housing dollars being used for programs that provide down payment and closing cost assistance.”

But over the years, “billions of dollars from the trust funds have been siphoned away to be used for purposes other than housing,” Lambert adds, calling it a “common practice.”

Proposed 2022 amendment to the Florida Constitution

During the 2021 session of the Florida Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill that permanently reduced housing trust fund dollars by 50%. As advocates for affordable housing in Florida, the change surprised the state’s real estate industry and left it with fewer options going forward.

One option still available, however, is amending the Florida Constitution. Among other things, the arduous process requires a Florida Supreme Court review of an amendment’s wording, almost 900,000 petitions signed by qualified Florida voters, and ballot-box approval by at least 60% of voters.

 “Getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot and passed by voters is a heavy lift that will take considerable resources, time and the involvement of our entire membership,” says Lambert, but, “we have the resources (and) we have the passion.”

Lambert says the association did extensive research before embarking on this constitutional amendment campaign, with advice from outside groups and finally unanimous approval by Florida Realtors Executive Committee.

If all proceeds as planned, Florida voters would be asked to approve the following amendment proposal in 2022:

  • Affordable Housing – Protects affordable housing funds from being used for non-housing purposes
    Establishes State and Local Government Housing Trust Funds in Florida Constitution. Dedicates 25 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents to those Trust Funds. Protects moneys deposited in those Trust Funds from being used for non-housing purposes. Funds may be expended only to address affordable housing access and availability, including funding of programs addressing new construction, down payment and closing cost assistance, rehabilitation, and financing for affordable housing development.

The summary and full text of the proposed amendment is also posted online.

The affordable housing trust funds are “often the only resource available to help essential workers like nurses, firefighters, teachers and first-responders achieve the American dream of homeownership,” says Lambert. “The recent law that permanently cuts the funding of these housing programs by 50% puts them in serious jeopardy, and Realtors agree that it’s time to take action.”

Florida Realtors will release more information about the campaign in the coming weeks, so “please stay tuned,” says Lambert. Local associations will need to get involved, and Realtors will be asked to sign the petition once it’s available.

© 2021 Florida Realtors®