Florida's Legislature is once again planning to violate the public trust by raiding the trust fund established to create more affordable housing, diverting $200 million to such priorities as teacher pay raises and health care. At the same time, lawmakers plan to spend $200 million from the state's share of a national mortgage settlement over bank foreclosure and mortgage abuses on things other than aid to struggling homeowners -- its intended purpose.
Still, both legislative chambers earmark some money for affordable housing with developers benefiting handsomely. The Senate proposes $65 million to developers of low-income housing projects while the House plans $50 million to affordable housing developers along with $35 million for Habitat for Humanity.
Both chambers allocate millions to the courts to reduce the foreclosure backlog, so those homeowners straining to remain in their residences will be forced out quicker. That's classic Tallahassee irony, spending money on a contrary purpose.
In another ironic twist, not a penny of the settlement money will help those underwater borrowers with mortgage principal reductions but provides assistant state attorneys, rural health care workers, teachers in low performing schools and others with thousands of dollars in down payment money -- so they could conceivably purchase a foreclosed home.
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The William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Act, adopted in 1992, provides a dedicated funding source to create more affordable housing for vulnerable and needy Floridians. State law stipulates that revenue from the documentary stamp tax paid on real estate transactions be dedicated to state and local housing trust funds.
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. SHIP provides financial assistance to low- and moderate-income Floridians for home ownership counseling, closing costs and vital repairs.
But while the Senate proposes a remarkable $70 million for SHIP out of settlement funds, the House allocates nothing. The Senate plan should prevail as a token effort to put the program on life support.
The Sadowski Housing Coalition, a nonpartisan group of 25 diverse statewide organizations, estimated Manatee County's share of Sadowski funds at $2 million in the upcoming fiscal year and Bradenton's at around $377,000 had the entire $200 million gone into SHIP.
This is not a budget year with more steep cuts in spending, the excuse cited in the past to justify trust fund raids. This is a year with $4 billion in new revenue produced by a resurgent economy -- plus a $200 million bonanza from the mortgage settlement.
Since its inception, SHIP funds have allowed 8,600 families with children to be placed in affordable and safe housing through rental and home-buying assistance as well as residential rehabilitation, which helps revitalize neighborhoods and improves home values.
The Legislature is poised to once again to wrongfully rob the trust fund, this time with poor pretext, and compound that shameful judgment by neglecting the intended beneficiaries of the mortgage settlement.