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Proposed amendment seeks guaranteed funding for affordable housing

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Legislature this year dedicated $200 million to affordable housing in the state. It’s the highest amount in 12 years but it’s a far cry from the $400 million that it could have been had money not been diverted

Over the past 25 years, lawmakers have swept $2 billion from the affordable housing trust fund for other needs.

“Due to cuts to the affordable housing trust fund Florida faces a shortage of 577,000 affordable housing units,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

A new citizen initiative seeks to guarantee full funding for affordable housing in the state constitution by requiring that 25% of doc stamp tax revenue be dedicated to affordable housing. But lawmakers have found ways to skirt similar constitutional mandates in the past.

“We’re excited to kind of, you know, take it to the people and let them make the decision as to whether or not the housing funds should be used for housing,” said Margy Grant, CEO of Florida Realtors -- one of the groups backing the initiative.

Conservation groups in 2014 used a nearly identical approach to guarantee funding for land acquisition.

Aliki Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters was part of that effort.

“It was set aside a third of doc stamps and use that money to conserve land,” Moncrief said.

But lawmakers still worked around the constitutional mandate by using the money as a piggy bank to cover the administrative budgets of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Forest Service instead of funding land purchases -- the money’s intended purchase.

“Ignoring what was very clearly communicated by the people of Florida with a 75% vote approval rating,” Moncrief said.

While the language of the proposed affordable housing amendment and the land acquisition amendment may be similar, proponents of the new effort are undeterred.

“We have full faith and confidence that if the voters decide to approve this amendment, that the Legislature will implement it as intended,” Grant said.

Potential legislative interpretations aside, getting the proposal before voters will be an uphill battle. The groups will have to collect nearly 900,000 signatures by Feb. 1 to secure a place on the November 2022 ballot.

It’s a daunting task made even more difficult by a new state law capping contributions to signature-gathering organizations at $3,000.

A lawsuit challenging the new contribution limits has been filed by the ACLU and three political committees. The groups have asked a federal judge to put the law on hold as the case works its way through the courts.