A major housing bill strongly backed by Florida Realtors passed the Fla. Senate Wed. The House may suggest changes, but it’s a good start early in the 2023 session.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Moving quickly on priorities of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, Florida senators Wednesday passed measures aimed at spurring more affordable housing for workers and boosting a trail network and wildlife corridor.

Senators unanimously approved what has been dubbed the “Live Local Act” (SB 102), which includes providing incentives for investment in affordable housing and more mixed-use developments in struggling commercial areas.

Florida Realtors® strongly supports Passidomo’s bill.

The Senate also unanimously passed a bill (SB 106) designed to help link a statewide hiking and biking trail network to a wildlife corridor that would stretch from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle.

To become law, the House must also pass an identical version of “Live Local Act” bill, which must then be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Currently, House panels started moving forward Wednesday with their versions of the housing (HB 627) and trail bills (HB 915).

Housing bill

The Senate housing bill carries a $711 million price tag. Among other things, it would pre-empt local-government rules on density and building heights in certain circumstances, create tax exemptions for developments that set aside at least 70 units for affordable housing, speed permits and development orders for affordable housing projects and bar local rent controls.

Bill sponsor Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, said the range of affordable housing strategies would make development financially viable.

“We are in a housing crisis and we are engaging through this policy a menu of tools, both for local government, both for developers, to increase the amount of affordable housing stock immediately and in three to five years,” Calatayud says.

Democrats raised concerns about issues such as prohibiting local rent controls and including industrial zoning as areas for mixed-use development. Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said the bill won’t end talk on the need to address the state’s affordable-housing problems, but it will change the way the shortage is viewed.

“What this bill does is it creates an environment in our state where decent, safe and affordable housing can be a reality for more Floridians,” Rouson says.

While the Senate would have to vote again on the bill if the House makes changes, Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said he expects the final version will change housing in the state.

“I believe once it is in statute and it’s implemented, we will see how it works practically, and we may still have to make some adjustments. But I believe what we’re doing today is groundbreaking,” Powell says.

The bill would provide money for a series of programs, including:

  • $252 million for the longstanding State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, program
  • $150 million a year to the State Apartment Incentive Loan, or SAIL, program
  • An additional $100 million for the Hometown Heroes program, which is designed to help teachers, health-care workers and police officers buy homes. Florida Realtors was also a strong supporter of the Hometown Heroes program.

The state budget for the current year includes $362.7 million for affordable housing.

The Senate passed the two bills on the second day of its 60-day legislative session, a clear sign of Passidomo, R-Naples, prioritizing the issues.

Trails and wildlife corridor

The bill involving the trails and the wildlife corridor calls for a one-time $200 million expenditure to further work on the Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Network. The proposal also would increase from $25 million to $50 million an annual amount that goes to the trail network from vehicle-registration fees. In addition, it seeks to boost communities along the trail network – dubbed “trail towns.”

“It stipulates that the trails are developed within the wildlife corridor to maximize previously disturbed lands, such as drainage ditches, canal basins, abandoned roads and railways, and it recognizes trail town designation,” bill sponsor Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said. “So, this will provide entertainment and respite for those who decide to use the trail.”

The wildlife corridor, which is expected to cost billions of dollars and take decades to complete, is envisioned as connecting 18 million acres of land from the Keys to the Panhandle. Of that 18 million, about 8 million acres still need to be secured.

© 2023 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.

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Author: marlam