When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida's new state budget on June 29, he slashed a billion dollars earmarked for agencies and programs that Floridians depend upon, including money set aside for building more affordable housing in Orange County.
Among his vetoes, DeSantis cut $225 million that lawmakers intended for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, which included $11.7 million expected by Orange County.
The SHIP dollars are usually used in Orange County for down payment assistance and housing repairs for very-low-income to moderate-income families. The funds also provide special-needs housing and low-interest loans to builders of affordable apartments.
The money will instead be sent back to the trust fund created in 1992 by the Legislature through the Sadowski Act, designed to provide consistent funding to Florida's affordable housing programs, but which has been chronically underfunded. Frequent raids of the trust fund by lawmakers have left Orange County with only about $1.4 million in each of the past two years. In fact, this had been the first year in a decade in which legislators left the funds intact.
"There's going to be a lot more vetoes, there'll be a lot of red," DeSantis warned reporters during a June 16 news conference at which he touted his priorities: teacher pay hikes and spending on environmental issues.
"We're living in a different reality. We've got to take that into account," said the governor who made renters sweat by waiting until just hours before his eviction moratorium was to expire to renew it.
Now, lawmakers will get to decide the fate of those millions of dollars after the Nov. 3 general election, providing even less accountability in a time of housing crisis.
The governor, who also once vetoed gambling-addiction warnings on lottery tickets, says he still cares about poor Floridians and the state's lack of affordable housing, a chronic problem that existed for years before the coronavirus pandemic. On June 25, he announced he would attempt to replace the vetoed housing funds with $240 million from the federal CARES Act. Half of this will go to building affordable multi-family properties through the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and the other half will go to counties.
While the FHFC and the Florida Housing Coalition say the CARES Act funding substitution is adequate, and even faster to reach recipients than SHIP funds, Orange County's manager of housing and community development, Mitchell Glasser, told the Orlando Sentinel that CARES dollars have "nothing to do with" the annual projects paid for by SHIP funds.
"It’s a huge hit," Glasser said.
The county has about $4 million left over from earlier SHIP payments, but some programs like rehousing the homeless may now need to be reconsidered. The progress lost could set the area back decades in addressing the problems.
$115 million will remain intact in the budget for the State Apartment Incentive Loan program for affordable housing developers, but neither address the longstanding issues legislators sought to finally address, which will now only be exacerbated by the economic shutdown.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Florida needs $609 million a month to help low-income renters who have lost work due to the pandemic. Other experts say it is even more.
Even worse, the CARES Act substitution could endanger low-income and unemployed Floridians as they face hurricane season.
"If a person has a house in disrepair that won't stand up when a hurricane hits, that's not COVID-related," said Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, to the Miami Herald. "Homeowner repairs, getting people into first-time home ownership – that's not COVID-related."
DeSantis left intact $500 million in Florida's budget for corporate tax breaks that housing advocates say should be cut to shoulder the burden instead, rather than shifting around funds that have different uses.
After his vetoes, DeSantis said Florida will have a $6.3 billion buffer to "weather any storm that the economic recovery may throw our way going forward."
Without a serious and sizable investment in solving Florida's affordable housing crisis, the next storm could be one of the governor's own making.
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