Local legislators David Santiago, Elizabeth Fetterhoff, David Simmons and Tom Wright get an earful while waiting their turn to speak about the recent session at a Daytona Regional Chamber event Wednesday. [News-Journal/Mark Harper] Hide caption
DAYTONA BEACH — One of the remaining questions from the legislative session that wrapped this month will be answered by Gov. Ron DeSantis soon: How much of the money dedicated by law to affordable housing will actually be available for, ahem, affordable housing?
Before the session, DeSantis recommended all $325 million of it.
But the budget compromise between the House and Senate ended up taking, or “sweeping,” in Tallahassee-speak, $125 million from the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund, reallocating it for general use. It also appropriated $115 million for Hurricane Michael recovery in northwest Florida, leaving $85 million for statewide affordable housing needs.
DeSantis can veto that, but in the meantime, some local lawmakers at a Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce “Eggs & Issues” event Wednesday weighed in on the need for affordable housing and their habit of using Sadowski funds elsewhere. Lawmakers have diverted more than $2 billion in the past two decades.
Senate President Pro-Tempore David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said lawmakers were responding to the “significant challenge” of helping that part of the state get back into homes that are safe.
“The fact of it is the federal government has not come through,” said Simmons, whose district includes part of Southwest Volusia. “What we’re doing with Sadowski funds, we are using money that could have been used somewhere else.”
The U.S. House and Senate have been unable to reach agreement on a Hurricane Michael disaster recovery package above and beyond what’s available to the state through FEMA.
The Daytona chamber was among the organizations calling for Sadowski funds — generated by documentary stamp taxes paid mostly upon transfers of real estate — to be spent on its dedicated purpose. Chamber leaders say the lack of affordable housing is creating a challenge for employers to attract and keep workers.
Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, spoke out against sweeps.
“I’ve always been against any sweeping of any fund, particularly Sadowski. I think it’s a travesty that you all pay taxes (into the fund) … and the Legislature goes in and raids it,” Santiago said. “That’s wrong. We are lying to you because when you pay it, you are told this is the purpose of this tax.”
Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-DeLand, acknowledged the growing recognition of the need for affordable housing.
“That message is being heard by the legislators,” she said.
But she doesn’t view the Sadowski sweeps in the same way affordable housing advocates do.
“Fortunately, this year they didn’t really sweep the Sadowski fund like they have in years past,” she said.
Jaimie Ross, facilitator of the Sadowski Coalition and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, noted in a letter to DeSantis that while there’s $77 million more in Sadowski funds available in 2019, the state will be spending $48 million less on its two major housing programs. She urged DeSantis to veto the sweep of the $125 million.
“Using trust fund monies for trust fund purposes is the fiscally responsible thing to do and maintains the integrity of not voting for a tax promised for one purpose and using it for something entirely unrelated,” she wrote.