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The Senate on Tuesday approved unanimously a top priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, a sweeping measure steering policies and money toward encouraging cities and counties to create more lower-cost apartments and houses.
Floridians are enduring the largest rate of rent increases in the nation, with the latest monthly average climbing almost 20% over last year, according to industry analysts.
“We’re rising to the occasion of a crisis of affordability for our communities,” said Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, a freshman lawmaker sponsoring the legislation (SB 102) promoted by the Senate leader.
Dubbed the “Live Local Act” and backed with $711 million in state money this year, the legislation has emerged as a rare, consumer-friendly detour in a Legislature focusing on other measures intended to clamp down on many aspects of life in Florida.
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Already advancing are bills banning socially conscious investing by local governments, diversity and equity programs in colleges and universities, gender-affirming care for youth, and making it easier for people to sue over defamation but harder to sue over property insurance and personal injury claims.
While many of these bills are dividing Floridians, the “Live Local” approach seeks to bridge an economic gap so evident in many cities and counties.
“This meets our workforce where they’re at today,” Calatayud said.
Rare agreement − from both parties
In rare consensus, the bill won support from all senators, from each party. It now goes on to the House for further review.
“This bill will not end the conversation but it marks a new beginning in the way we look at the housing shortage,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “And there’s so much more to be done at the local level, and at the state level, to make sure everyone has a roof over their head…we’ve been behind the curve too long.”
Millions of Floridians are considered housing unstable or cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing. Many actually spend 50% or more, especially those living in costly tourist areas and working in retail, restaurants and other service sectors.
The legislation (SB 102) would put $1.5 billion over 10 years into a fund giving low-interest loans to affordable housing developers. It includes tax exemptions for private investment in affordable housing while pre-empting some local government regulations on zoning, density and building heights in certain cases.
Florida leads the nation in rate of rent hikes
The industry site Rent Report showed Florida led the nation last month with a 19.7% increase in average rents, year-over-year.
The proposed spending also includes $252 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP program, and $259 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program, the state’s main affordable housing efforts.
An additional $100 million goes to the Hometown Heroes program, created last year and which would be expanded beyond specific occupations to wider income eligibility categories.
The legislation also encourages mixed-use development in struggling commercial areas and – in one of its few disputed provisions – prohibits rent controls.
Orange County voters a target
That seems targeted directly at Orange County voters, who last year overwhelmingly approved limiting how much landlords can raise rents, action now being challenged in court by Florida Realtors and the Florida Apartment Association.
“Reining in exorbitant rent imposed by landlords: Does that not address the affordable housing issue?” asked Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando.
Calatayud said, “Rent control caps unaffordable market rate costs. Our legislation is an answer to reducing unaffordable market rate costs.”
Orange County is one of the five counties that failed to support DeSantis in his re-election last year.
Passidomo has said she envisions the measure as prompting communities to create housing where people could live closer to their jobs.
Florida’s polarized economy prevents that from happening in many places. Too often, she said, service employees, teachers and first responders must commute long distances to jobs in wealthier enclaves.
Part of the approach could even lead to converting to apartments now-declining shopping plazas, malls, office blocks and even fading hotels. Many Florida communities are built-out, with little room for new construction, making these commercial spaces even more appealing for new housing.
These commercial strips, many built decades ago, are surrounded by parking lots – adding to the available space. They’re also usually on major roads, where there’s nearby transit, schools, stores and easing the connection to jobs of potential residents.
Research last year by Apartment List, a housing analysis firm, reported that Florida leads the nation in rental unaffordability, with almost 57% of renters considered cost-burdened.
While the cooling of the state’s formerly scorching hot housing market likely has eased the rental crisis some, four Florida metropolitan areas are typically among the nation’s cities with the highest rent spikes over the past two years.
“We’ve nibbled around the edges of this issue for too long,” said Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. “Today, we’re making a difference.”