Mike Sutton Sig

In Pinellas County, it is estimated there is a shortage of 54,000 affordable housing units for low-income residents. In neighboring Pasco County, 56% of low-income households are considered housing cost-burdened. Statewide, 1 in 6 Floridians spends half or more of their income on housing. It’s no secret we have an affordable housing crisis in our state. The problem gripping our community is not new. However, the funding source created to address this crisis, called the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, is again under attack. This time cuts will be permanent.

A recent proposal by Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson would permanently cut the state’s affordable housing funding by almost 70%. According to a joint press release from the speaker and president, the new infrastructure plan would direct one-third of the existing distribution to the Housing Trust Fund to the Always Ready: Flooding and Sea Level Rise Agenda (a priority of Speaker Sprowls), one-third would be directed to the Wastewater Grant Program within the Department of Environmental Protection (a priority of President Simpson) and one-third would continue to be distributed to state and local affordable housing programs, with language that prevents these distributions from being swept to general revenue.

While we believe funding for flooding and sea level rise as well as wastewater initiatives are vital, we also believe Florida can meet all its infrastructure needs without taking the housing money that is desperately needed to help Florida’s workforce and seniors.

If enacted, cuts would total over $14 million annually in Pinellas/Pasco counties and almost $300 million annually statewide. Let me reiterate that these would be permanent cuts. For affordable housing advocates and providers, cuts to affordable housing for other legislative priorities are nothing new. Over the past decade, legislative sweeps out of the Housing Trust Funds have totaled over $1.5 billion. Yet, this proposal would double that number over the next 10 years to $3 billion directed away from affordable housing.

Cuts will disproportionally impact low-income families as these funds are explicitly used to serve moderate- to low-income citizens. Cuts would also disproportionally impact our Habitat affiliate, as 65% of the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (funded by the Housing Trust Fund) must be spent on homeownership activities. Impacts would be felt far beyond our Habitat affiliate and would cascade through the entire housing continuum. Housing Trust Fund dollars are often used to fund programmatic gaps that federal funding does not allow for or local funding cannot provide. Many of these programs are vital to supplying as well as preserving affordable housing in communities throughout Florida.

These programs include property acquisition funding, emergency home repairs, home rehabilitation, down payment assistance, construction financing and housing counseling programs. Again, all of these programs specifically aid low-income families in obtaining affordable housing. A 70% permanent reduction in these programs would be disastrous, curtailing any advancements made over the past years and aiding to intensify the affordable housing crisis detailed above.

While we at Habitat laud both Speaker Sprowls and President Simpson’s efforts to address flooding and sea level rise as well as wastewater initiatives, it should not come at the expense of affordable housing. Permanent cuts of $300 million a year is a bridge too far. We must leverage all available resources and use all the tools in the toolbox. It is time to make affordable housing a proper priority and continue to make Florida the greatest state in the nation.

We urge you to reach out to your local state representatives and advocate to #CancelTheCuts by opposing the restructuring of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Mike Sutton is president and chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.