By Jaimie Ross, CEO, The Florida Housing Coalition

At the time of this writing, Hurricane Dorian has yet to make landfall in Florida, but the devastation to the housing stock along Florida’s eastern coastline looms.  If good fortune spares us this time, even the most optimistic among us knows it won’t be long until a hurricane ravages another portion of our state.

Florida is magnificent; we have beaches along three sides and sunshine year round.  We also have hurricanes.  We have natural beauty and we have natural disasters.  While there is no correlation between natural beauty and natural disasters, there is a connection that needs to be addressed.  And that connection is housing.  Specifically, the housing needs of lower income Floridians.

Our Sunshine State draws over 1,000 people to move here every day.  We have surpassed 21 million in population.  And as more people move to Florida after a lifetime of wealth building in other states and countries, the price of Florida’s housing goes up and out of reach for Floridians.  The Florida workforce finds stability in employment but no stability in housing.  Families and people living on fixed incomes are often one broken car, medical emergency, or missed paycheck away from homelessness.

To address the need for housing that is affordable for Florida’s workforce and Florida’s most vulnerable populations such as the elderly and others living on fixed incomes, Florida created a dedicated revenue source to fund the SHIP program at the local level and the SAIL program at the state level.  Together, these two programs provide the flexibility and accountability to address Florida’s housing needs.  Indeed, the Sadowski Act programs, as they are referred to, are national models.  The Sadowski Act SHIP program is in every one of our 67 counties as well as our larger municipalities.

SHIP started in 1992 and created an infrastructure of local housing administrators.  It is because of the SHIP program that Florida has been able to recover so well from the series of hurricanes that have hit our state.  Local housing administrators run housing rehab programs and emergency repair programs every day of the year.  After a natural disaster, federal funds can be deployed by these SHIP Administrators using the same infrastructure that they use for deploying SHIP funds.  But what happens when the legislature starves the SHIP offices of funding so that SHIP no longer operates?  Who will be there to deploy the federal funding intended to rebuild housing destroyed by the storm?

SHIP was created to address Florida’s housing needs caused by the gap between wages and housing prices, not the housing repair needs caused by natural disasters.  The gap between wages and housing prices has grown and the need for SHIP has grown.  Using SHIP funds to respond to natural disasters ignores the housing crisis and undermines our state’s ability to recover from natural disasters. The SHIP offices needed to deploy federal disaster housing recovery funds will be understaffed or nonexistent if SHIP funds are not appropriated for the SHIP program.

The federal government provides all the funding needed for housing repairs caused by natural disasters from CDBG-DR.  It just takes too long to get here.  Florida needs to ready itself for natural disaster recovery by establishing a system for reimbursement from HUD for advancing state funds.  Florida finances are in excellent shape.  We have a triple A bond rating and over three billion dollars in our “rainy day fund”.  With an agreement from HUD, we can use a portion of those funds to front-end disaster recovery for the survivors who need to repair or replace their homes.  The SHIP offices in the impacted areas can deploy those rainy day funds.  In this way, Sadowski funds, both SHIP and SAIL, can be used for the non-hurricane housing crisis that lower income Floridians face daily, and for which the Sadowski state and local housing trust funds were created to address.