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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Why doesn't Florida have enough affordable housing? The legislature may be partly to blame

 A yellow house with a white picket fence
Nick Evans
A yellow house with a white picket fence

This battle comes as the state’s real estate market continues to price out homeowners and renters alike.

A deal struck last year between the legislature and the state’s main affordable housing arm appears to be in jeopardy as the House and Senate prepare to reconcile their rival spending plans.

For decades the Florida legislature has swept money out of a trust fund designated for affordable housing. Those sweeps amount to more than $2.5 billion, and it's way more than that when local money is factored in.

“It is, in no small part, why we have an affordable housing crisis," said Jaime Ross, President and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition.

"That was all predominately SHIP funding that never made it to the local government, and that money is levered 6 to 1."

SHIP is the affordable housing program that funds down payment, rental assistance, and home repairs for low, to moderate-income Floridians.

Last year, lawmakers promised not to sweep the trust, in exchange for the permanent redirection of half the money in it for climate change and resiliency efforts. In return, the remaining money, more than $350 million, would stay with affordable housing. Yet what the House and Senate are proposing fall short of that figure—with the Senate spending nearly $338 million on affordable housing, and the House spending $70-million less.

“We’re pretty disappointed in the House number," said Ross, "and we’re really grateful to the Senate and hoping they will hold firm when they go into conference.”

Conference is the process where the House and Senate get together to negotiate on their budget differences.

This battle comes as the state’s real estate market continues to price out homeowners and renters alike. The state doesn't have enough stock of either kind of housing. Builders cannot build fast enough, and materials are skyrocketing, too. The split between the House and Senate goes to how each chamber views the two main housing programs: SHIP and SAIL. SAIL provides grants to developers to build multifamily housing like apartments. Speaking with reporters earlier this month, House budget chief Jay Trumbull said his chamber wants to make ownership a priority.

“I think this body views homeownership [as] very important, and these SHIP dollars, which go to local governments and get to Floridians faster—I think that’s necessary. Which is why we’ve focused and put all those dollars on the SHIP program," he said.

Housing is considered affordable when people are spending 30%or less of their income on it. That’s far harder to do in today’s inflation-fueled economy. Ross says the state cannot afford to go another year without properly putting money toward generating more affordable housing.

“People living on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, the elderly...to what people refer to as that 'essential workforce'…especially the folks who work in hotels [and] doing lawn maintenance—they’re all essential in Florida and we need housing for everyone.”

Right now, there's a shortage of it—and it's only getting worse.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.