Sadowski housing trust fund should be spent as law outlines

February 19, 2013 

The William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act is one of those altruistic government programs that serves multiple purposes. Primarily designed to as a dedicated funding source to create more affordable housing for vulnerable and needy Floridians, the 1992 act also provides jobs in the housing industry.

As the hardest hit state in the nation's foreclosure crisis with another wave of homeowners on the verge of losing their residences and with a still struggling construction industry, Florida would be wise to take advantage of Sadowski Trust Fund and pump money back into a still distressed economy.

But the Legislature has failed to appropriate any money into the State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) program, created by the Sadowski Act, since fiscal year 2008-09.

Although the law stipulates that revenue from the documentary stamp tax paid on real estate transactions be dedicated to state and local housing trust funds, the Legislature has swept that money into the general budget -- violating the spirit of the Sadowski Act.

Back in 1992, lawmakers passed the act after being sold on the idea that this was a job-generating measure. That still holds true today, and it's even more vital as the state crawls out of high unemployment left over from the Great Recession.

The Sadowski Housing Coalition, a nonpartisan group of 25 diverse statewide organizations, estimates the stamp tax will produce some $200 million in revenue this coming fiscal year with Manatee County's share put at $2 million and Bradenton's at around $377,000.

Those monies pay for public-private partnerships to build, rehabilitate and preserve affordable housing for poverty-stricken people and even moderate-income workers as well as special-needs residents. This is not a public housing program.

The coalition also predicts the $200 million would create almost 15,000 jobs with a total economic impact of around $1.5 billion.

Gov. Rick Scott -- the "jobs" governor -- only places $50 million into the local government housing trust fund while sweeping out more than $150 million into general revenue. While that's a big improvement over the recent total robberies of the Sadowski funds, state should quit breaking faith with taxpayers. Especially this year, as there is no state revenue shortfall to justify siphoning off trust funds.

Over the past two decades, SHIP funds have allowed 8,600 families with children to be placed in affordable and safe housing. Such stability prevents homelessness and improves the health and welfare of children and adults as well as veterans, the elderly and the disabled.

Act money is also dedicated to energy-efficient appliances, after-school programs with computers, and financial literacy programs. Rental and home-buying assistance is available alongside residential rehabilitation, which helps revitalize neighborhoods and improves home values.

Operating with strict oversight, accountability has been one of the hallmarks of the Sadowski Act. This is a Florida state government program that works.

The Legislature should fully fund this economic development and jobs dynamo -- which is also a solid investment into the state's social fabric.

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