Florida Senate wants to improve workforce housing but not through local rent controls
In a top priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a proposal filed Thursday seeks to address housing affordability and make it possible for workers to live near where they are employed.
The wide-ranging proposal (SB 102), dubbed the “Live Local Act,” includes providing incentives for private investment in affordable housing, offering flexible housing regulations that encourage mixed-use development in struggling commercial areas and preventing local rent controls.
Passidomo, R-Naples, told reporters that a goal is to change the perception of workforce housing, which often draws local opposition.
“We have people in this state who work for businesses that make a decent income. They can’t find a place to live, so they’re living in their car,” Passidomo said. “These are not homeless vagrants coming out of the woods. These are the people that work alongside us every day. And you know, we need to … find a way to provide safe, attainable housing.”
Passidomo said it’s more than people such as firefighters, police and nurses who struggle to find housing. She pointed to young lawyers and recent college graduates working at banks who might make $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he anticipates being able to support the Senate proposal.
Democrat opposition to rent-control ban
But Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, expressed disappointment in the proposal, pointing in part to the attempt to prevent rent controls. Orange County voters in November approved a rent-control measure, though a legal battle about the issue has gone to the Florida Supreme Court.
“The bill smacks Orange County voters right in the face by preempting what was a hard-fought measure to stabilize rents in our community through an emergency ordinance,” Eskamani said in a statement. “The bill also does not provide any immediate relief to Florida tenants, which is where the biggest challenges lie.”
The proposal, meanwhile, drew quick support from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, with president and CEO Mark Wilson saying the ability to attract and retain talent “relies on the availability of affordable and attainable housing.”
The nonprofit Florida TaxWatch said Thursday that preliminary real estate forecasts suggest relaxed rental demand and additional housing supplies will ease rising prices. But it said Floridians will “continue to grapple with housing affordability well into 2023.”
Sponsor Calatayud cites challenges facing developers
Senate Community Affairs Chairwoman Alexis Calatayud, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said it would address market issues that have made new construction financially challenging for developers of multi-family projects.
“This has become a number one priority and a crisis atop policy-priority lists across the state, whether you are a housing coalition, nonprofit, or AT&T, a Fortune 500 company,” Calatayud said.
The 94-page proposal would direct $150 million a year in documentary-stamp tax revenues to the State Housing Trust Fund, with 70% of the money focused on converting existing structures into “attainable” housing and projects near military installations. The remaining 30% would go to housing for seniors, young adults aging out of foster care and projects in rural areas. Documentary stamp taxes are collected on real-estate transactions.
Another $252 million would be moved into the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, program, while $259 million would go into the State Apartment Incentive Loan, or SAIL, program. Those are longstanding programs designed to boost affordable housing.
The proposal also would add $100 million to the Hometown Heroes program, which was created last year to help people such as teachers, healthcare workers and police officers buy homes.
Another $100 million would be set aside to offset inflation at new construction projects.
The state budget for the current year includes $362.7 million for affordable housing, with $209 million going to SHIP.
In addition to providing money, the bill would take steps to ease local regulations related to such things as zoning, density and height as it seeks to help clear the way for multi-family developments in commercial areas.
An incentive labeled “missing middle” would offer tax exemptions on newly constructed developments of 70 or more units that set aside units for workforce tenants who meet income requirements.
“We are essentially incentivizing them to make available a large number of units that otherwise would be market rate,” Calatayud said.
Developers also could receive property-tax discounts and exemptions when land is owned by nonprofit organizations and leased for at least 99 years to provide affordable housing.
Among other things, the proposal would direct state officials to determine if state land could be used for affordable housing and to allow money from the Job Growth Grant Fund economic-development program to go toward infrastructure projects that support affordable housing. The grant fund is currently limited to regional infrastructure projects and workforce training.