Put affordable housing back on the agenda | Opinion

(Photo: Jock Fistick, Jock Fistick / South Florida Business Journal)

The mid-terms are over and our newly elected leaders in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. are ready to get to work. It’s time for them to concentrate on an issue that is of the utmost importance for our society: affordable housing.

Since the 2016 general election, our nation’s festering affordable housing crisis has been overshadowed by issues such as health care, gun violence, immigration, election integrity and, in Florida at least, an environmental crisis.

Despite a surplus of new luxury homes and apartments, the stark reality is that most Floridians are unable to afford even moderately priced housing. Wage growth has not kept pace with housing costs.

Over a third of Florida households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing – while a fifth of Floridians, over 780,000 households, pay more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent.

When nearly half of residents are spending close to half their pay on housing, they’re not able to pay for other goods and services, including like health care and education; they commute longer distances; and they live in tough neighborhoods, or move frequently, creating instability for young children.

By contrast, affordable housing creates new jobs, helps revitalize neighborhoods, makes it possible for families to escape a cycle of poverty and creates safe environments where children can thrive – all positive for our country as a whole.

Affordable housing, already in short supply, is about to become more scarce. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that nearly 500,000 affordable apartments across the country will hit the 30-year expiration date between 2020 and 2029 – including about 1,666 units in the state of Florida, according to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation

To further complicate matters, the tax reform bill of 2017 had the unfortunate side-effect of disrupting the market for Low Income Housing Tax Credits — tax credits are less valuable to businesses in a low corporate tax rate environment and less in demand. Within days of the legislation being introduced, Housing Trust Group saw millions of dollars of equity committed for new affordable developments simply evaporate.

So how can our newly elected leaders take steps to solve the affordable housing crisis?
Mandates on developers for the inclusion of affordable units in market-rate projects are not the answer and would only result in an incremental increase in units.

To be effective, we need federal, state and local solutions simultaneously.

Congress needs to expand the popular LIHTC program, which is responsible for creating more than three million units of affordable housing since its inception.

At the state level, we must safeguard the Sadowski Trust Fund, the state’s affordable housing fund. The Florida Legislature has been sweeping the fund for over a decade to the tune of about $2.2 billion. To say this is reckless, irresponsible and unacceptable is a gross understatement. Our new governor needs to put an end to it.

Counties and municipalities can use tools like SURTAX, inclusionary zoning, and fast-track permitting for affordable housing development.

We can solve the affordable housing crisis if we work together. If there’s one thing that ought to unite us, it’s the belief that safe, clean and affordable housing must be attainable for hard-working families in America.

Matthew Rieger is the president & CEO of Housing Trust Group, a full-service developer of multifamily properties throughout the Southeast and Arizona, and a developer of affordable housing in Florida.

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Dwayne Bradford