FLORIDA FACES AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS by Roxanne Escobales

09/15/06

For the past few years we’ve been hearing about Florida’s booming economy: property values are up; unemployment down. But somewhere in there lies an ugly truth policy makers, developers and residents are just beginning to face. And that’s Florida’s housing crisis.

Today in Tampa around 400 government officials, home builders and businesspeople attended a day-long summit dedicated to exploring solutions in finding affordable housing for Florida’s workforce. Lieutenant governor Toni Jennings told the participants that it would take more than a few quick-fix government initiatives to stabilize the situation.

ACT:

More than 700,000 Floridians are in immediate need of affordable housing because they are paying more than half of their household income on their homes. And while the price of houses increased by 80 percent over the past three years, household incomes increased by only 1.4 percent in the same amount of time.

Jennings attributed the problem to two factors.

ACT: Double whammy…

There are some hopeful patches of blue sky peeking out from behind the perfect storm that led to the housing crisis. In housing circles, Florida is known for having an innovative reserve of money for housing called the Sadowsky trust. Right now 507 million dollars that is dedicated to affordable housing sits in the fund. But as Jamie Ross, the president of the Florida Housing Coalition told the audience, next year a limitation to the amount of money the fund receives comes into effect.

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Housing advocates are lobbying to have the cap on the Sadowsky Fund repealed by the legislature.

Summit participants were presented with a host of possible solutions such as incentivizing employer-assisted housing. The city of St Petersburg gives financial bonuses to police officers and teachers who buy homes within the city limits in the form of down payment assistance.

Local property developer Grady Pridgen promotes and builds sustainable mixed-use communities. He says that affordable housing should not mean housing that’s cheaply built.

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In the meantime Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings says the state is exploring a host of possible solutions – all involving fortifying housing against hurricane damage.

ACT:

The Lieutenant Governor said she and Governor Jeb Bush have 106 days left in office and would try their best to address the problem. But as policy and funding largely depends on legislative action, whoever gets elected this November could very well be handed a poisoned chalice.

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