By Daniella Medina
University of Central Florida
Influencers, decision makers and voters from across Florida met Monday to discuss key topics and policy issues pertaining to the state and its constituents — among these the affordable housing crisis.
The discussion was part of the second annual Florida Priorities Summit Influencer Series, a two-day event presented by the Miami Herald Monday and Tuesday at the University of Miami.
The Rev. Dr. David Swanson, a summit participant from Orlando, said the state as a whole is “exceedingly far behind” in solving the affordable housing crisis because it is impossible to know how the Florida Legislature is using the funds dedicated to affordable housing in the Sadowski Affordable Housing Act — which have been redirected from housing to general revenue.
The Orange County Housing For All task force approved a draft Friday for a 10-year action plan dedicated to finding a solution for the affordable housing crisis affecting the city of Orlando. The plan seeks to remove regulatory barriers and find new sources of funding while engaging the community and providing opportunities and access to those in the region.
The plan, drafted by a 38-member task force created earlier this year by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, calls for community-based solutions to preserve and create 30,300 housing units by 2030 if the plan is approved in December by county commissioners.
Housing For All plans to establish a $160 million housing trust fund in addition to a $10 million annual commitment from the county and private contributions.
The plan seeks to address the issues of the region’s growing population. The Orlando Economic Partnership’s 2030 report predicts that Central Florida will add about 1,500 people every week.
However, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Orlando metro area ranks among the worst as an area with the most severe shortages of rental homes affordable to extremely low income households. There are 13 affordable and available rental homes per every 100 extremely low-income households. Orlando is also ranked among the most expensive housing markets as well, according to RealtyHop.
The commission is a “policy advocacy agency that seeks to look at building a system of care in the Central Florida region that makes sure that homelessness is rare, brief and one time for anyone who may be experiencing it,” said Swanson, who serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Chronic Homelessness and chairman of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.
Swanson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, said that Orange County’s faith-based community can play a large role in solving homelessness.
“When it comes to homelessness, the government can’t solve homelessness. The private sector can’t solve homelessness by themselves. You need the government — they have to create the policies,” Swanson said. “It’s the faith community that creates, for the larger population, a moral imperative — it actually matters how we treat people who don’t have as much as we do.”
With the Christian population in Orlando of over half a million people, Swanson said they are already incentivized to assist in solving the affordable housing crisis because of their duty to help other people.
Furthermore, he said churches are able to provide more than just money. They provide human capital — educators, job creators and legal services — to surround families and households and help them thrive again.
Swanson said he believes Orange County’s affordable housing plan has potential to work with its proposition of using tax incentives, public land and easing zoning restrictions.
But, he said homelessness will always be a problem.
“Housing and affordable housing and homelessness — you never cut the ribbon. It’s always a problem and you have to create a sustainable source of funding,” Swanson said.
Among alternatives for generating streams of revenue are community generosity and corporate philanthropy. Kerry-Ann Royes, president and chief executive officer of YWCA Miami, attests to this.
The YWCA is a social justice organization that pledges to eliminate racism and empower women while promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all, Royes said.
Royes said everything related to the economic prosperity of a community is intertwined — housing, jobs, education and healthcare. Therefore, it’s important for the faith-based and nonprofit communities to come together to bridge the gap between low-income families and affordable housing.
“The faith-based community and the nonprofit community are stepping up and coming to the plate to find solutions that have to do with housing more and more because it’s very disproportionately affecting communities that we serve,” Royes said.
Royes and the YWCA pride themselves in being a “voice for the community” by advocating for its citizens with problem solvers and statewide leaders.
“Some of what we talked about [at the summit] was asking our legislators what are some of the creative incentives or innovations in housing that we need to think about,” Royes said. “Not just for the demand today but for the future demand and, frankly, some of the economic growth we want in our state.”
She stressed the importance of finding creative solutions to accommodate the influx of people moving to the region.
Annie Lord, executive director at Miami Homes for All, an organization seeking to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis in Miami-Dade County through policy advocacy and building coalitions, led the summit group discussion to help find creative solutions needed to solve Florida’s affordable housing crisis.
Among the solutions agreed upon were fully utilizing Sadowski funds, passing legislation that creates incentives for affordable housing, including property tax abatements and incentives for mixed-income and mixed-use communities, and amending a Florida House bill that would increase tax exemption transparency and accountability, to strike any vague language about how the money can or cannot be spent.
This is how Florida can begin to ease its homelessness problem.
“There are always going to be homeless people, there’s always going to be housing challenges until we fix low wages, transportation, education and all the infrastructure problems,” Swanson said. “To say that we’re going to end homelessness — you’re never going to get there. But we can create a system that works so you see fewer and fewer people on the street and there are fewer people suffering.”