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Affordable housing plan gets final approval

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, led efforts to pass a bill to address affordable housing.
Florida Senate
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, led efforts to pass a bill to address affordable housing.

With approval Friday from the Florida House, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo’s $711 million effort to make housing more affordable for working Floridians is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The House voted 103-6 to pass a bill (SB 102) dubbed the “Live Local Act.” The bill would provide incentives for private investment in affordable housing and encourage mixed-use development in struggling commercial areas, while barring local rent controls and pre-empting local government rules on zoning, density and building heights in certain circumstances.

In a statement, Passidomo, R-Naples, said the measure aims to end “affordable housing stereotypes” in creating options needed by the workforce. She also pointed to continued population growth and the demand for housing.

“It is clear that the broad appeal of the free state of Florida has impacted our population and our housing needs,” Passidomo said.

House sponsor Demi Busatta Cabrera, R-Coral Gables, said “innovative concepts” in the proposal will allow Floridians to live close to where they work.

“As our state continues to grow, we need to make sure that Floridians can live close to good jobs, schools and hospitals and other centers of their communities that fit within their household budgets, no matter their stage of life or income,” Busatta Cabrera said.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure on March 8, meaning it is now ready to go to DeSantis.

Among other things, the bill would create tax exemptions for developments that set aside at least 70 units for affordable housing and would speed permits and development orders for affordable-housing projects.

Some Democrats expressed concerns about parts of the bill that would prohibit rent controls and impose certain local government pre-emptions.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, pointed to Orange County voters last year approving a referendum to enact rent controls because of a lack of affordable housing and rising rents.

“I do feel like parts of the bill are going to do a lot of good. It won't be immediate. It'll take time,” said Eskamani, who voted against the measure. “But my constituents are seeking immediate relief. They're seeking renter protections.”

Orange County’s rent-control plan hasn’t taken effect because of a legal challenge by the industry groups Florida Realtors and the Florida Apartment Association.

Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, said local government pre-emptions in the bill would limit public engagement in some South Florida communities facing development pressures.

“Overtown, Allapattah, Liberty City, these historically discriminated-against and systemically discriminated-against areas are now areas of interest for development because they are above sea level. And provisions in this bill remove the local government's authority to address issues that are particular to these communities,” Gantt said. “In particular, the removal of the public notice and the hearing process is especially concerning for me and my constituents because at these hearings is when our community has the opportunity to vocalize what we want our neighborhood to look like.”

For other Democrats, those concerns were outweighed by increases in funding for housing and rental assistance.

“I'm part of a non-profit that is building an affordable housing community,” Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, said. “What I've learned through this process, besides the huge need there is for everybody out there for housing, is that it's really hard to go get affordable housing dollars.”

The bill would provide money for a series of programs, including $252 million for the longstanding State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, program, $150 million a year to the State Apartment Incentive Loan, or SAIL, program, and an additional $100 million for the Hometown Heroes program, which is designed to help teachers, health-care workers and police officers buy homes.

The state budget for the current year includes $362.7 million for affordable housing.

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida