After spending millions in an effort to pass a constitutional amendment for affordable housing, Florida Realtors have shifted their efforts to focus on a different solution: frontline workers.
The Florida Realtors group is the state’s largest trade association of residential and commercial agents, brokers, appraisers and other real estate specialists. Originally, Florida Realtors created a political committee called Floridians for Housing to try to pass a constitutional amendment that would strictly allow the Sadowski Trust Fund to be used for affordable housing.
The Sadowski Trust Fund provides funds to different programs dedicated to solving the affordable housing crisis. For years, the money has been subjected to sweeps by lawmakers to use the fund for other purposes.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have prevented this, but getting it on the ballot proved too expensive and difficult. To get on the ballot, the committee needed 891,586 petition signatures and the latest number of signatures received was 95,895 as of Sept. 27. Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors also supplied at least $13 million to the committee to support the amendment.
Instead of the amendment, Florida Realtors announced they will work with legislators to create a program that will help frontline workers secure affordable housing. Florida Realtors CEO Margy Grant said she is pleased about the consensus reached to preserve housing programs already in place and to create the program for frontline workers.
Grant explained that frontline workers have played an essential role during the pandemic by putting themselves at risk. Therefore, they deserve a homeownership program to ensure they can have affordable housing in the communities where they work.
Although Florida Realtors claims to be working on a program for frontline workers, CEO and President of the Florida Housing Coalition Jaimie Ross said there is already an existing program. In a statement to the Florida Political Review, Ross said she is “unaware of any legislative support for a new program for frontline workers because of the SHIP program, which is the largest part of the Sadowski Trust Fund Act.”
The SHIP program is the State Housing Initiatives Partnership that provides funds to local governments in order to create partnerships to foster and preserve affordable homeownership. It is designed to aid “very low,” “low,” and “moderate” income families.
SHIP funds are allocated to local governments based on population. The funds are distributed to homeownership-related activities, including emergency repairs and construction.
“The SHIP program already serves frontline workers and helps them to get into homes,” Ross said. “Frontline workers clearly fall within the income eligible category.” Eligibility for this program depends on a person’s or family’s income in relation to the Area Median Income.
The AMI for low income families is 80%. Stephen Weeks, the Alachua County Housing Program Manager, told the Florida Political Review that “frontline workers are a category in SHIP, and a vast majority of frontline workers fall below 80%.”
Besides the SHIP program, another program called the State Apartment Incentive Loan provides low-interest loans to affordable housing developers. The funds are available to individuals, public entities, and not-for-profit or for-profit organizations that work to construct or renovate multifamily units.
“To my knowledge, the Florida Realtors’ plan does not address affordable apartments, nor does it help persons with extremely low incomes or those with disabilities needing assistance,” Karen Koch, Executive Director of the Florida Supportive Housing Coalition, told the Florida Political Review.
The SHIP and SAIL programs are the two main programs funded by the Sadowski Trust Fund. Therefore, Ross is hopeful that this new program by the Florida Realtors will help put funds into these programs. Putting more funds into the existing programs will help replenish the funds lost due to the sweeps.
Florida Realtors’ Public Policy Communications Director Tom Butler told the Florida Political Review that “this new program will be entirely separate from SHIP or SAIL.” What this new program will include and where the funding for it will come from will be determined by legislators and the realtors group.
In a statement to the Florida Political Review, Ross said, “If their efforts can bring more money into the SHIP program from general revenue, that would be wonderful.”
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Featured Image: A house at the end of a street. (Unmodified photo by Eyabe used under a Creative Commons license. https://bit.ly/3km2nNV)