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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
Editorials

Protect affordable housing program

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You would think the governor and state lawmakers would be falling all over themselves to protect a state program that creates jobs, boosts local economies and provides housing for Floridians who would otherwise be left out of the American dream of home ownership.

But that’s not what lawmakers have done over the past decade. Instead, they have raided a dedicated funding source for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program to fund budget needs elsewhere.

Although short-sighted, raiding the fund was understandable during the great recession, when lawmakers were faced with staggering budget shortfalls. Now that Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers are working with a budget surplus, it’s time they stopped taking money from the program, known as SHIP, and from a similar rental housing program known as SAIL.

The programs are funded by a legislative act that sends a sliver of the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions to local and state housing trusts. This year, the SHIP trust fund is projected to reach $204 million, and the SAIL trust about $87 million.

But Scott has already proposed a budget that would sweep all but $20 million from the SHIP program in the next fiscal year. The fate of the SAIL trust is uncertain.

Just to be clear, these are not programs that build massive public housing projects, provide rent subsidies or help people get into homes they cannot afford. SHIP money provides the one-time financial assistance the working poor need to become homeowners. It helps the elderly, veterans and people with disabilities make significant repairs to their homes, avoid foreclosure or recover from a natural disaster. The SAIL program rehabs dilapidated apartments, and provides other services related to rental units.

Together, the programs help low-income people leave substandard housing behind. Because of the dedicated funding source, the programs are not a burden on the state budget, and they have been scandal free since being created in the early 1990s.

They were founded by a unique coalition of private and public interests known as the Sadowski Housing Coalition, which persuaded the Legislature to dedicate the documentary stamp tax revenues to housing programs. Starting in 1992, and for the first 10 budget years, the Legislature left them alone, as well they should have considering the money is collected specifically for the housing programs. But lawmakers were unable to keep their hands off the funds, and have been raiding it off and on since 2003. The last two years, they’ve taken all the SHIP money.

This means jobs associated with the rehabs and other work, and the decent housing stock the programs create, are being denied in communities across the state. As projected this year, almost $14 million in SHIP money would be available for Hillsborough, $10 million for Pinellas and $5 million for Pasco.

This thoughtful program helps the economy while helping people find housing they can afford. Lawmakers should support it, not raid it.

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