Florida is red. Hot red. Over the past couple years, we’ve seen a republican governor push through conservative legislation with near unanimous approval from the republican supermajority in the Florida legislation. Mask mandate bans, bans of critical race theory, tough on crime legislation, and laws limiting reproductive rights have all swiftly passed through Florida legislation with little debate. Bipartisanship seems dead, and with good reason. Today, a democrat’s job is to grit their teeth and vote “no” for republican introduced legislation.
Stumbling across bipartisanship legislation that truly addresses domestic issues is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. One of these legislative unicorns, SB 102, was signed into law by Governor DeSantis on March 29th. SB 102, also called the Live Local Act, was introduced to the Florida House by a bipartisan group of two democrats and four republicans; it passed the Florida House in a 103 to 6 vote. Since its passing, local media has focused on the limitations of the law, including decreasing tax revenue for local governments and the widespread bans placed on rent control. Like nearly all laws, it has imperfections. Yet, SB 102 moves the needle for affordable housing and holds true potential to change the makeup of the Florida housing market.
To understand SB 102, one must first understand housing inequality in the United States. The difference in net worth between renters and homeowners is staggering: the average renter has assets totaling $6,300 vs $255,000 for the average homeowner. Homeownership remains the path to build wealth for the majority of Americans, as it is homeowners that benefit from housing booms. Unfortunately, the path to homeownership can be littered with uncrossable barriers. Raising rents throughout Florida largely prevent individuals from saving for a home, and roughly 30% of renters are now considered “rent burdened” by the state. Deep rooted and prejudice housing polices still permeate into minorities’ abilities to apply for loans and buy homes. And current zoning laws continue to hinder the building of new homes and affordable housing projects.
The goal of SB 102 is simple enough: encourage the development of affordable housing. The law, as passed, will achieve its intended goal in various ways. First, the bill sets aside $250 million for low-interest loans that developers can use to build affordable housing. It allocates another $250 million as incentives to local governments to preserve and build new housing. It limits the government’s ability to collect property taxes on units marked for affordable housing. And controversially, it bans local municipalities from enacting rent control policies. All these actions act to incentivize the only long-term solution to Florida’s housing crisis: building new homes.
The law, however, doesn’t stop there. It actively inhibits a local government’s ability to stop building. It is this crucial aspect of SB 102 that separates it from prior bills passed pushed for affordable housing. From the law, “A county must authorize multifamily and mixed-use residential as allowable uses in any area zoned for commercial, industrial, or mixed use if at least 40 percent of the residential units in a proposed multifamily rental development are … affordable”. It is this one small paragraph in this 92 page law that makes SB 102 groundbreaking: it both incentivizes housing and forces local governments to approve affordable housing production.
SB 102 has its share of flaws. It will likely lower revenue streams for local governments by decreasing income from property taxes. It may lead to higher costs for renters in the short term by banning rent control. It will lead to preferential development of affordable housing units in areas previously marked for commercial and industrial housing, which may lead to increases in environmental racism. And the law still encourages the segregation of the working class from the wealthy, by allowing local governments the right to deny affordable housing projects in zones designated as “residential”. Still, this law does much more right than wrong.
The passage of the Live Local Act came and went with little media fanfare. After all, infrastructure bills don’t come with the same controversy as political attacks on Disney World and six-week abortion bans. The true impact of this legislation won’t be seen for many years to come, and yet it holds the potential to radically improve the lives of many Floridians. SB 102 is proof that our fractured government can still come together to pass meaningful legislation. And for that, I am thankful.
Image from https://www.flgov.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Live-Local-Act.pdf