Contractors and subcontractors constitute a substantial number of those now unable to pay their mortgage or rent. But Florida has work for them to do. We have thousands of foreclosed and abandoned homes that are in need of rehabilitation; in need of all the skills they can provide. And we have the money to put them to work: We have approximately $193 million in dedicated revenue from Florida's state and local housing trust funds in fiscal year 2011-2012. If the Legislature appropriates that money for its intended purposes, it will create nearly 15,000 jobs and more than $1.4 billion in economic activity.
Unemployment and underemployment in the construction industry are causing financial hardship for carpenters and painters, people who hang drywall, install roofs and plumbing, lay floors and wire electric. They have lost their jobs due to the downturn in new construction, a consequence of Florida's severe foreclosure crisis.
Housing rehabilitation, whether in the form of restoring vacant or abandoned single-family houses or preserving federally subsidized apartments, creates as many or more jobs as new construction.
While "job creation" is the claim du jour in today's economic environment, the facts are that housing construction or rehabilitation creates more jobs per million of state expenditure than any other program. The total economic impact is the leveraging of the housing trust fund money with private sector funds plus the economic multiplier effect — creating 77 jobs for every $1 million in trust fund dollars.
The state and local housing trust funds exist because industry groups, including the Florida Realtors and the Florida Home Builders Association, agreed to a legislative increase of the documentary stamp tax paid on all real estate transactions beginning in 1992, provided those funds would be dedicated for housing and that approximately 70 percent of those funds would flow directly to local jurisdictions for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program.
The SHIP program has received no funding for the past two years because all the SHIP funds were swept into general revenue and used for purposes unrelated to housing. SHIP needs to be funded this year.
Without the survival of SHIP offices, Florida communities will be ill equipped to respond to natural disasters. When federal hurricane assistance flowed into Florida's communities in the aftermath of five consecutive hurricanes, our communities were able to get housing rehabilitated quickly and efficiently because of an
operational SHIP program. SHIP, while construction oriented, is also flexible enough to change strategies during changing economic times. For example, in some of the areas hardest hit by unemployment in Florida, such as Kissimmee at over 12 percent unemployment, the Osceola SHIP office began using SHIP money to prevent foreclosures and homelessness for the underemployed work force, as well as down payment and closing cost assistance to get families into existing housing.
Using housing trust fund money for housing puts the "trust" back into trust funds, but it does more: It puts Florida's construction industry back to work and provides a much needed lift to our troubled real estate market.
Economic recovery will only be further delayed by failing to appropriate housing trust fund money for housing, and Florida cannot afford to delay its economic recovery.
Jaimie Ross is the facilitator for the Sadowski Housing Coalition, a collection of 24 nonpartisan statewide organizations, including business groups, low-income advocates and faith-based groups.
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