Florida Realtors back plan to boost affordable housing

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Realtors are backing a plan to change the state’s constitution to guarantee more money goes into affordable housing.

They’re starting out with a $13 million war chest to support their plan.

Every mortgage transaction, deed, stock transfer or written obligation to pay money is subject to a documentary tax in Florida. The tax is 70 cents on every $100.

As of May, the state had collected a whopping $1.2 billion for the fiscal year. By law, a quarter of it has been going into an affordable housing trust fund.

“Every single year, a portion of the housing trust funds are swept to the state’s general revenues,” said Christina Pappas with the Florida Realtors Association.

But this year, state lawmakers cut the funding for affordable housing in half, directing the money to sea-level rise, as well as septic tank and sewer projects.

The cut, or shift, has prompted Florida Realtors to put $13 million behind a constitutional amendment. The initiative seeks to restore affordable housing’s share of the tax back to 25 percent.

“If you are a school teacher, a firefighter, a nurse, you typically can’t afford to have the down payment that you need,” said Pappas.

But the effort has angered incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

“I said to them, ‘I’ll be honest with you, you declared war on the Florida Legislature,’” Passidomo said.

The Realtors’ amendment requires two-thirds of the money go to the purchase of housing, raising questions about whether Realtors are trying to guarantee themselves a paycheck.

Realtors need just shy of 223,000 signatures for the Supreme Court to review the amendment.

“We must challenge it,” said Passidomo.

If they get them, Passidomo said lawmakers will ask the court to throw it off the ballot.

“One, because I believe it’s misleading,” she said. “And No. 2, it would impact our constitutional duty to pass a balanced budget.”

But if the Realtors’ measure makes it to the 2022 ballot, they expect smooth sailing because affordable housing is a problem statewide.

Some senators also see the amendment as self-serving, arguing that most of the amendment’s money would go to down payment assistance, which amounts to commission for Realtors.

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