Stop treating the affordable-housing fund like a medicine cabinet for all ailments

There is little question about the dire need for low-income, affordable, assisted housing in Central Florida. Twenty-six years ago, Florida legislators enacted a 10-cent-per-$100-paid surcharge on every real-estate transaction in the state. The proceeds of that surcharge was directed into the William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund for state and local housing programs. Three years later, the legislators doubled down on their commitment by adding another 10 cents into the fund.

Since then every real estate transaction results in 20 cents of every $100 dollars paid getting deposited into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Unfortunately, those funds don’t always make their way into affordable housing. Since 2008, the governor and legislators have swept almost $1.4 billion into the general fund to spend for other purposes. One can only dream about what that much money could have done to alleviate our housing shortage.

What honest, well-intentioned lawmakers saw as a means of addressing the lack of affordable housing 26 years ago has now become a medicine cabinet for every sick funding opportunity imagined.

Now an idea to have every large employer kicking in $275 per employee to combat the homeless problem sounds great, as Seattle, Wash., has done, but would there be a guarantee that the funds would be used for housing? In fact, there is every reason to believe that Florida’s next governor and legislative leaders would find other purposes for a “head tax,” whatever their reason of the day may be.

More likely than not​,​ the employee would pay for the head tax in either lost jobs, lost income or lost benefits. That’s ​why such a plan would be ​a sick joke.

We need ​to support financially ​the Central Florida Continuum of Care and its partners, which support ​a ​public/private partnership, “housing first,” modeled after successful ventures in other communities. The efforts of those partnership agencies show us how to fund housing, education, treatment and employment opportunities designed to end homelessness once and for all.

​ It is our responsibility to use the funds appropriated at the state and federal levels for their intended purpose. ​

​An example of a successful housing-first partnership is Bergen County, New Jersey’s being certified as the first “community” in the nation to end chronic homelessness among veterans. This housing-first approach saves taxpayers money by interrupting a costly cycle of social services such as emergency-room visits, hospitalization and jail time. Other housing-first examples can be found in the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, Wis., with their plans to house more than 300 chronically homeless people in just three years.

Dallas created 50 one-bedroom apartments in the shadow of its downtown as a housing-first strategy to find a permanent place for the homeless before trying to solve their personal problems, rather than the other way around. Salt Lake City, Utah, using the housing-first model, reduced chronic homelessness from nearly 2,000 people in 2005 to fewer than 200 now. Philadelphia, Pa., converted a vacant school into apartments for homeless veterans.

Orlando and all of Central Florida, with the enormous creative intellect in our communities, should be the world leader in ending homelessness. We don’t need another tax gimmick; we just need to make sure the Affordable Housing Trust Fund gets all that’s coming to it.

William Dalton, a longtime advocate for the homeless, lives in Kissimmee.

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