Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Renew Commitment to Affordable Housing

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Renew Commitment to Affordable Housing

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

The Florida Senate's proposed budget for 2016-17 would help restore some trust in the Legislature's use of funds dedicated to affordable housing.

What about the tentative budgets offered by the House of Representatives and Gov. Rick Scott? Not so much.

The Senate recently decided to allocate all available housing trust monies -- some $317 million -- to housing in the next budget year.

Many Floridians may wonder: What's the big deal? Isn't the Legislature supposed to put a specific share of revenue from documentary stamps into housing funds?

The answer is: Yes.

But that hasn't stopped the House and Scott from raiding -- or, in the parlance of Tallahassee, sweeping -- millions of dollars from the so-called trust funds and diverting them to other purposes. So far during the annual session of the Legislature, the House and Scott both have proposed to take $172 million out of the housing funds -- in part to meet the governor's corporate tax-cut initiatives.

Sweeping the trust funds is an unnecessary sleight of hand -- and it is counterproductive.

Although we opposed sweeps during the recession and its immediate aftermath, at least the diversion of trust-fund revenue could be framed as a difficult yet rational choice. That is not the case now: The Legislature entered this year's 60-day session with higher revenue projections and a "surplus."

Documentary stamps are paid on real estate and financial transactions. There is a strong connection between the real estate sales that generate doc stamp revenue and the need for affordable housing. When that revenue increases, the rise is usually due in part to higher home prices that put the squeeze on middle- and low- income individuals and families.

Housing trust funds were created in Florida to help ease that squeeze. The doc stamp tax on real estate was slightly increased in 1992 to generate revenue for the state's affordable housing trust funds. …

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