Concerned that state money earmarked for affordable housing will be siphoned away for other purposes, Inverness Realtor Cheryl Lambert has joined her colleagues across the state in backing a proposed constitutional amendment that would dedicate tax dollars for housing programs.
Lambert also happens to be president of Florida Realtors as well as broker-owner with Only Way Realty Citrus.
“For decades, our organization has been an outspoken champion for Florida’s affordable housing programs and their ability to help hard-working Floridians find stable housing,” Lambert said. “Those programs are now in jeopardy due to the recent actions of the Florida Legislature.”
But Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, called the Realtors’ campaign “a money grab to bring more attention to their demands.”
“What they're trying to do would be a disaster for Citrus County and very anti-environmental,” he said.
The Florida Department of State on June 11 gave initial approval to the amendment proposal by a political committee known as Floridians for Housing. Florida Realtors has provided $5 million to the political committee since March 31, finance reports show.
The proposed constitutional amendment would dedicate 25% of revenues from a documentary-stamp tax to affordable-housing programs.
“Funds may be expended only to address affordable housing access and availability, including funding of programs addressing new construction, down payment and closing cost assistance, rehabilitation and financing for affordable housing development,” a ballot summary of the proposal says.
Realtors and other housing advocates have been frustrated for years by legislative moves to divert money from an affordable-housing trust fund to three key areas of infrastructure — affordable housing, wastewater and mitigating sea-level rise.
Simpson and Florida House of Representatives Speaker Chris Sprowls in March announced a funding change impacting the state’s affordable housing trust funds, commonly called the Sadowski Trust Funds.
Sprowls and Simpson proposed that two-thirds of the Sadowski money go to efforts to address effects of sea-level rise and to upgrade sewage treatment.
Under the initial Senate plan, that would have provided $141.7 million to affordable housing, sea-level rise and sewage treatment.
But after an outcry about a need for affordable housing, the Senate approved an amendment to provide $200 million for affordable housing, $111.7 million for sea-level rise and $111.7 million for sewage treatment.
Simpson said Friday more money would go toward the septic-to-sewer campaign to clean up local waterways and springs. Sea-level rise, he said, also represents a danger to folks who live along the coast.
Lambert realizes the campaign will not be easy.
“Make no mistake, getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot and passed by voters is a heavy lift that will take considerable resources, time, and the involvement of our entire membership,” she said. “But we have the resources, we have the passion, and when we are successful, the result of our combined hard work will be immeasurable.”
News Service of Florida contributed to this report