Gov. Rick Scott promotes a razor-sharp focus on job creation yet his state budget proposal for fiscal 2016-2017 sweeps millions out of a housing trust fund that with a full allocation would create an estimated 32,000 jobs statewide -- well-paying construction work, not minimum-wage service jobs. The Sadowski Trust Fund, established in 1992 from dedicated state revenue collected on the documentary stamp tax paid on all real estate transactions, continues to be diverted away from its mission, affordable housing, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
As the real estate market continues its remarkable rebound, home costs and apartment rents rise, and salaries stagnate, affordable housing is vital to curbing and preventing homelessness. The issue of homelessness in Manatee County has risen to greater public awareness of late because of public discussions about this solution-defying dilemma, one that Sarasota County is meeting head-on with sound public policy proposals though the debate is not over yet.
Florida's Legislature will certainly weigh in on the governor's unjust raid on the Sadowski Trust Fund. Republican Sen. Bill Galvano of Bradenton indicated skepticism about Scott's sweep at a Bradenton Herald roundtable discussion on homelessness with a host of community leaders in November. Manatee County enjoyed another ally in the Senate when John McKay of Bradenton served as the chamber president and presided over full funding from Sadowski in fiscal 2002-2003 before sweeps became a politically popular way to fund other programs.
Trust benefits considerable
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The Sadowski Trust Fund can have a tremendous local impact. With full funding from the trust in the coming fiscal year, the Sadowski Housing Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to affordable housing, projects Manatee County would receive almost $4 million under the local State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program with a positive economic impact of a little more than $60 million. Some 419 homes would be built, sold, renovated or retrofitted under SHIP, and the number of people housed would be around 1,048. Job creation is forecast to be 426.
Another local program, the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL), produces living quarters for our workforce, rehabilitates existing apartments in desperate need of repair and keeps the frail elderly, the disabled and other vulnerable populations in their own housing rather being forced into institutions.
Statewide, Sadowski could create 32,000 jobs and pump $4.6 billion into the economy. The governor should be focusing on those figures.
But the governor proposes gutting SHIP, slashing the allocation by $172 million -- down to a mere $34 million. That represents only 17 percent of local Sadowski funds for housing, a major hit on Manatee County's SHIP program.
There is no downside to the Sadowski Trust Fund -- other than political raids on funding. With full funding in fiscal 2016-2017, Sadowski would contribute $324 million into affordable housing across the state.
This fiscal year, the governor proposed sweeping $177 million out of Sadowski, the Senate wanted full funding but the House sought a $150 million raid. The compromise came down to a $81 million sweep, still a steep reduction in a state where homelessness abounds -- with the third largest homeless population in the nation.
State business and industry organizations wholeheartedly embrace Sadowski, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Bankers Association and Associated Industries of Florida. These are the governor's core constituencies as economic development groups, just a few of the statewide organizations that support the enlightened public policy of taxpayer-supported programs for affordable housing.
Sadowski is a wise investment into local communities. Beyond the economics, this is also an investment in families, veterans, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless and other needy Floridians.
Nationally, the "Housing First" movement is taking hold as a replacement for service-oriented priority policies of the past. Putting people into permanent homes and then providing supportive services has been a proven winner in community struggles to reduce homelessness. Manatee County needs a full-bore strategy to adopt Housing First. Full SHIP funding would be a big help.