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Proposed amendment seeks to guarantee funding for affordable housing

Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:03 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - This year, the Florida Legislature dedicated $200 million to affordable housing in the state. It’s the highest amount in 12 years, but it’s a far cry from the $400 million that it could have been.

A new citizen initiative seeks to guarantee full funding for affordable housing in the state constitution, but lawmakers have found ways to skirt similar constitutional mandates in the past.

Over the past 25 years, lawmakers have swept $2 billion from the affordable housing trust fund for other needs.

“Due to cuts to the affordable housing trust fund Florida faces a shortage of 577,000 affordable housing units,” said State Representative Anna Eskamani.

But, the new initiative seeks to stop the raids by requiring in the state constitution that 25 percent of doc stamp tax revenue go to affordable housing.

“We’re excited to kind of, you know, take it to the people and let them make the decision as to whether or not the housing funds should be used for housing,” said Margy Grant, CEO of Florida Realtors, one of the groups backing the initiative.

But in 2014, conservation groups used a nearly identical approach to guarantee funding for land acquisition.

Aliki Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters was part of that effort.

“It was set aside a third of doc stamps and use that money to conserve land,” said Moncrief.

Lawmakers have still found ways to work around the constitutional mandate, by using the money as a piggy bank to cover the administrative budgets of environmental agencies like DEP and the forestry service instead of funding land purchases.

“Ignoring what was very clearly communicated by the people of Florida with a 75 percent vote approval rating,” said Moncrief.

While the language of the proposed affordable housing amendment and the land acquisition amendment may be similar, proponents of the new effort are undeterred.

“We have full faith and confidence that if the voters decide to approve this amendment, that the Legislature will implement it as intended,” said Grant.

Potential legislative interpretations aside, getting the proposal before voters will be an uphill battle. The groups will have to collect nearly 900,000 signatures by February 1st to secure a place on the 2022 ballot.

It’s a daunting task made even more difficult by a new state law capping contributions to signature gathering organizations at $3,000.

A lawsuit challenging the new contribution limits has been filed by the ACLU and three political committees. The groups have asked a federal judge to put the law on hold as the case works its way through the courts.

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