March 30, 2017

There's No Place Like Home (If You Can Afford It)

The Florida State Legislature has almost $293 million available in the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund to invest in affordable housing for 2017-18. While the Legislature has been reluctant to fully utilize the available funds in the past, the funding fully supports the articulated goals of state policymaking leadership. The 2017 legislative session is the perfect time for lawmakers to commit to investing all the dedicated affordable housing funds for their intended purpose.

Does Florida have an affordable housing problem? Consider these facts:

  • According to a March 23, 2017, PolitiFact analysis, South Florida leads the nation in the gap between wages and housing.
  • Throughout the state, the median hourly wage is insufficient to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment and is especially pronounced in Central and South Florida.
  • The income needed to buy a median priced home is almost $70,000 per year in Orlando and almost $90,000 per year in Miami. Most teachers, police, firefighters and nurses don’t approach the required income.
  • The United Way of Florida released its 2017 Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) Study of Financial Hardship and found that 44 percent of Floridians do not earn enough to afford basic needs – housing, food, child care, health care and transportation. The income needed to cover basic costs ranges from $44,028 in Putnam County to $68,952 in Monroe County. In contrast, the Federal Poverty Level for a family of four is $24,700 in 2017.
  • Sixty-seven percent of jobs in Florida pay less than $20 per hour and three-quarters of those jobs pay less than $15 per hour.

The only logical conclusion is that there is a significant gap between wages and housing costs. This gap affects nearly half of all Floridians. So, what are families to do? They can live farther away from work, but this choice requires additional time away from family, higher transportation costs in gasoline and car maintenance and tolls. They can rent or purchase lower-quality housing; however, the neighborhoods may be more run down, less safe or both. These choices both require a tradeoff.

The state Legislature cannot erase the total affordable housing needs of the state in one year. However, they can make a good faith effort to address these needs by fully funding affordable housing from revenues that are already designated and available through the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund.

Investing in affordable housing is not a handout. Instead, each state dollar appropriated for this purpose generates $4 to $6 in economic activity. Using the $293 million in available Sadowski funds would result in 28,779 Florida jobs, $1.3 billion in income associated with those jobs and $3.8 billion in total economic output. In short, the Legislature’s investment in affordable housing yields tangible returns to state and local economies.

Far too many Floridians worry about their family budget, the largest portion of which pays for housing. The state has an opportunity to start chipping away at the affordable housing needs of residents and generate additional revenue in the process. The reasons this investment makes short- and long-term financial sense are too numerous to detail here, but the benefits would positively affect subsequent generations of Floridians in ways that continue to benefit the state economy.

Florida must do the right thing and fund the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund at the $293 million level. More Floridians should be able to say, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

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