Legislation introduced during the 2023 session, SB 102, would make changes to affordable housing programs, create substantial new tax credits, and implement a statewide ban on municipal rent control measures. Below, FPI summarizes several areas of concern around the legislation, which has been dubbed the "Live Local Act," and its companion bill, HB 627.
Ban on Rent Control
The State Legislature is — once again — attempting to preempt municipalities from being able to make decisions that are best suited to meet local needs and challenges. By convincing the state Legislature to rule against the autonomy of municipalities through preemption, special-interest groups (e.g., an association of landlords) can pass widespread and potentially permanent policies without having to advocate in each municipality.
In Florida, the power differential between tenants and landlords is already staggering:
- There is no state-recognized Tenants Bill of Rights.
- Tenants are not guaranteed representation in eviction cases.
- The eviction process almost guarantees a default judgment (automatic loss) against tenants five days after a complaint is filed.
- Month-to-month tenants are only guaranteed 15-days’ notice to vacate their units.
- The prevailing party in eviction cases is awarded attorneys’ fees and court costs (which is often the landlords as they are disproportionately represented, while tenants face default judgment almost immediately).
Removing voters’ rights to advocate for rent controls in their municipalities or for municipalities to establish rent controls in all but the direst of situations takes away one of the most effective tools still left in tenants’ toolbox. This provision in SB 102 and HB 627 is especially harmful during a time when Florida ranks first in the country for the percent of people who are rent-burdened (over 30 percent of income is spent on rent) and severely rent-burdened (over 50 percent of income is spent on rent). It is also concerning that while most of the bill’s measures sunset in 2033, the rent control ban is permanent.
Lack of Full Transparency
Funding for affordable housing is administered by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), a quasi-governmental organization. The legislation would add FHFC documents related to the Live Local Program to the list of items exempt from Section 24 of the Florida Declaration of Rights, which governs access to public records and meetings (colloquially referred to as the “Sunshine Law.”) It is unclear which FHFC documents are anticipated to be kept from the public. This is alarming given the lack of need for confidentiality over FHFC documents related to housing programs since the start of the organization in 1980.
The legislation would add Florida Housing Finance Corporation documents related to the Live Local Program to the list of items exempt from Section 24 of the Florida Declaration of Rights, which governs access to public records and meetings (colloquially referred to as the “Sunshine Law.”)
Lack of Accountability Measures
The legislation would also alter the requirements of counties and municipalities related to the three-year inventory list releases. The inventory lists consist of land owned by counties and by municipalities that can be utilized for affordable housing. The new requirements — which would involve adopting best practices related to surplus land use — include:
- Establishing eligibility criteria for both receipt and purchase of surplus land (increasing clarity in the surplus land system and use of these lands);
- Publicizing the process to request surplus lands (increasing transparency and making the process more equitable);
- Encouraging long-term land leases and the relevant governing body’s retention of the right of first refusal on much of the property previously purchased from said body for a period of time (ensuring long-term affordability, although the “certain timeframe” appears to be left up to the bodies’ discretion without a mandated minimum limit); and
- Extending all of these requirements to the almost 2,000 special districts in the state (increasing future housing stock and a workforce related to each special district’s limited purpose).
Another important detail is that neither the legislation nor the sections of law it amends contains language on accountability measures. As always, people can bring county and municipal officials to court to enforce their duties; however, there is no additional oversight by the state to ensure that the correct measures are taken. Leaving the responsibility of accountability on Floridians — especially considering that the households most impacted are those struggling to make ends meet — is unreasonable and unduly burdensome.
The legislation also mandates reporting from conservation land managers to the Division of State Lands every 10 years. However, there is again a lack of state-initiated accountability measures, leaving Floridians to bear the burden of holding government actors responsible.
Leaving the responsibility of accountability on Floridians — especially considering that the households most impacted are those struggling to make ends meet — is unreasonable and unduly burdensome.
Another provision in SB 102 and HB 627 would require the University of Florida's Shimberg Center for Housing Studies to release annual reports on Florida affordable housing accomplishments, needs, and potential plans of action. While this is a positive aspect of the bill, there are no clear guidelines to ensure that statistics related to the Live Local Program, the Hometown Heroes Program, and the already-existing Sadowski housing programs would be reported separately. Without delineating the results of these programs, it will be impossible to assess the impact of each, and to ensure that the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund remains fully funded. It is important to ensure that the permanent sweep of the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund enacted in 2021, which significantly reduced the amount of dedicated funding for affordable housing, is not obscured by these temporary, workforce housing-focused programs.
The Social and Economic Impact of Substantial Tax Credits
The tax credits created by SB 102 and HB 627 would be earned through monetary contributions to the Live Local Program. These credits have a $100-million cap and can be broadly used for up to 10 years following each related contribution. While this does mean that a great deal of funding would likely be funneled into workforce housing development and rehabilitation, there is revenue lost elsewhere. The total cost of the legislation hovers around $314 million through the life of the Live Local Program through the following:
- A permanent, construction-related sales tax refund ($45 million);
- Tax credits for companies’ Insurance Premium Taxes or Corporate Income Taxes in exchange for contributions ($100 million);
- Permanent property tax exemptions ($8.5 million); and
- Annual contributions from the General Revenue Fund ($150 million).
It is encouraging to see the state prioritizing some forms of affordable housing. However, the housing prioritized is mainly focused on workforce housing (Floridians making between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area median income) without also prioritizing people making 79 percent or less of area median income. Additionally, the effects of the legislation's tax credits and the shifting of state revenue should be monitored and mitigated to ensure that the most equitable funding allocations are made. Public services in Florida have consistently been underfunded and — given the economic challenges that Floridians currently face, combined with the potential for another recession — it is paramount to carefully consider if forgoing all of this revenue would help move the needle on shared prosperity in the state.