MIAMI, Fla. – Two local Democratics were among state legislators at the forefront of providing relief to people reeling from Florida’s affordable housing crisis, including offering tax incentives to developers to boost residential buildings for residents struggling to find places to live.

State Sen. Shervin Jones from West Park and Sen. Rosalind Osgood from Broward County backed Senate Bill 102, proposed by Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud, which was designed to boost affordable housing developments throughout Florida, by using tax breaks and increased funding for existing programs, including extending eligibility to first responders and military veterans for first-time home buyers.

The state legislature earmarked as much as $700 million for the programs which is a major priority for Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, to address the affordable housing crunch.

During the first week of the Legislative Session in Tallahassee, Jones, Osgood and Calatayud won sweeping bipartisan support for the Live Local Act, saying tackling the affordable housing crisis is critical at this point, as MiamiDade and Broward counties are experiencing a large exodus of people no longer able to afford to live in Florida.

"More people are on the verge of sleeping in their cars," Osgood said. "This bill is a major step to help them."

Though the bill passed unanimously, some Democrats expressed concerns over its provisions to neutralize local government’s ability to adjust zoning and impose rent control.

Nevertheless, it gives some relief for people living below or at the poverty rate who have been struggling to find affordable housing.

Jones said the bill also addresses the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and prevents alleged abuse by developers.

The fund, passed in 1991, was designed to dedicate a portion of the documentary stamp tax paid on all real estate transactions to a specific affordable housing trust.

However, since the early 2000s, state legislators repeatedly have raided the trust to fill general revenue budgetary shortfalls – more than $2.3 billion since 2008.

"Some of the things the bill does is it stops the sweeping of the Sadowski Fund and also stops alleged abuse by developers," Jones said after the meeting. "We know the cost of living has grown astronomically in the state and Miami was deemed the most expensive place to live in the United States."

Despite the passing of the bill, Jones said Florida still has more work to do to address the affordable housing crisis.

“Floridians’ budgets are increasingly squeezed by the housing shortage and rising rents these days," he said. "This bill is an important step in the right direction. Housing is intrinsically linked to economic security and mobility, and all of our communities benefit from stable, safe housing that meets residents’ needs.”

Jones said residents should start to see relief soon.

"As soon as the governor signs the bill into law, we will see some relief for the affordable housing crisis."

Calatayud said under the bill, developers would be exempt from property taxes for at least 70 units in the last five years if they offer rents at least 10 percent below the local market rate, and local governments will be allowed to offer property tax carve outs to developments of at least 50 units that include 20 percent of their units as affordable housing.

In addition, funding is available for affordable housing programs, as much as $259 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan program, $252 million for State Housing Initiative Partnership and $100 million for Hometown Heroes program for military veterans and first responders.

“The biggest housing concern we hear from young people is that there is no place for them to raise their own families in communities they grew up in, where their extended families have lived for generations,” said Calatayud. “To me, that is a tragedy.

“This bill is going to help bridge that gap, improving options for both homeownership and affordable rental units in communities across our state.”

Local government officials have been struggling to address the affordable housing crisis as mortgage and rental rates have soared from 5.8 percent to 8.4 from March to November of 2022, according to Moody’s Analytics. The rates are expected to rise again this year.

According to RealtyHop’s Housing Affordability Index, Miami is the second least affordable place to live in the U.S., with an average rent cost of $1,998 a month in neighborhoods populated by minorities whose income is just below the poverty threshold.

The average rent for apartments, homes and condos in Brickell, Miami Design District and other affluent neighborhoods is $2,856 per month.

In her 2023 State of the County address, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county is investing more than $500 for affordable housing programs this year in collaboration with developers and financial institutions.

She said the county broke ground on several affordable housing construction projects last year and some are currently in the works for 2023.

Levin Cava said extending the county’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) was a big boon to many families struggling to remain in their homes.

A single person earning less than $95,620, couples making less than $109,200, families of three earning less than $122,920, and families of four earning less than $136,500 can now qualify for rental assistance.

“For Miami-Dade to thrive, our residents must be able to afford to live here,” said Levine Cava. “Our county’s distribution of ERAP funds was so successful, we were able to apply for and receive more funds from the federal government to expand the program and help more renters.

“This new expansion will allow more financially struggling residents to tap into life saving funds to help them stay in their homes. That, in concert with our Building Blocks program and HOMES plan, will create a more affordable Miami-Dade for all.”

The City of Miami also is grappling with the affordable housing crisis including building housing and apartments on city-owned properties and offering programs in partnership with financial companies for first time home buyers at modest rates.

But city residents are opposing a proposed zoning change in the Little Bahamas Coconut Grove area which would allow developers to build lowdensity commercial buildings in the historic Black residential neighborhood instead of affordable housing.

During last week’s City of Miami Commission meeting, residents said the area should remain zoned for residential buildings to help people experiencing home hardship.

Thelma Gibson, a longtime Coconut Grove activist and former City of Miami commissioner, asked commissioners to reject the zoning change and keep up with its efforts to build affordable housing in Black Coconut Grove.

"The current zoning is to make sure we have residential, especially for affordable housing," said Gibson, whose husband also was a Miami commissioner. "People are moving to Florida City to find affordable housing. It’ll be great and so important to keep it zoned for residential and affordable housing."

New Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo, who won a special election last month to replace Ken Russell, deferred the zoning change requests until the April meeting after residents expressed their opposition. "I need time to study it," she said.