Jacksonville advocate applauds new affordable housing bill; critics decry doing away with rent control

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Affordable housing continues to be a big issue in Florida. Many say it’s a crisis that needs to be addressed.

Florida lawmakers trying to do just that with a new bill that would put millions toward creating more options in the state.

The people behind the “Live Local” bill said one of the goals is to create more housing options so people like nurses and those in the military can live near where they work.

One thing it would do is create incentives for developers to build more affordable housing. Critics are pushing back against some parts of the bill, but one local advocate calls it a big step in the right direction.

For decades, Florida has struggled to create enough affordable housing options for workers in the state, meaning housing that cost no more than 30% of a family’s gross income.

The simple supply and demand issue has moved into crisis territory in the last few years as new residents have flooded the state and interest rates have spiked.

“Jacksonville is really seeing massive year over year rent increases, housing prices have gone crazy, it’s just, you know, the population growth is wonderful, but the unintended consequence, one of them is this impact on our housing market,” said Shannon Nazworth, the head of Ability Housing, a Jacksonville nonprofit that develops affordable and housing for low-income residents.

A new bill wants to address the issue.

Senate Bill 102 was filed by Republican Florida State Senator Alexis Calatayud of Miami, which is the epicenter of the housing crisis in the state.

“First, we want to revise our hosting strategy. Our state housing strategy, which is older than I am. We haven’t amended these strategies for over 30 years. That is where we begin,” Calatayud said.

The bill would put $1.5 billion over 10 years into a fund that gives low-interest loans to affordable housing developers and put more money toward urban infill projects and housing near military bases. It would also create tax exemptions for developments that set aside at least 70 units for moderate and low-income housing. (Read more details about the “Live Local” bill in the news release at the bottom of this story)

“I think among the things that are most important, first, it’s really, you know, fully funding all of the existing affordable housing trust funds, and even adding extra resources to them, which has not been done before,” Nazworth said. “It’s not just focusing on the higher income people having troubles with housing, it’s really focusing on everyone, even those who are struggling before all of this, you know, population growth and housing market changes.”

But critics are calling the legislation a “big corporate giveaway” and pointed out the bill would also take away the ability of local governments to impose rent control. Current Florida law allows local governments to impose rent control under certain circumstances, as long as it’s approved by voters.

Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani told Spectrum News she wants to see immediate relief.

“It is, unfortunately, to the point where the need is now,” Eskamani said. “It’s not in the future. It’s now, which is why any package should include tenant protections and tenant support in the immediate while we do pick up the supply long term.”

Nazworth said while the bill is not perfect, she thinks it’s a step in the right direction toward addressing the ongoing crisis.

“I just am thankful that people are finally realizing what the critical issue is. And you know, it’s going to take all of us all across all of the sectors working on this. But you know, if we keep working on it, it’s not going to get solved overnight, but we’ll get there,” Nazworth said.

This bill and a companion bill in the Florida House are expected to be priorities for lawmakers when they reconvene next month.

About the Author:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.