Recent polling published by the Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign indicates 76% of voters are likely to vote for a candidate that has a detailed plan for making housing more affordable. We hope that you will take this opportunity to review the questionnaires.
2020 State Candidate Questionnaire
Name: Ben Diamond
Candidate for Office: State House District 68
How would you characterize the housing needs in your district, for both renters and for homeowners?
The housing needs in District 68 are very diverse. Both renters and homeowners struggle with affordability. It can be extremely difficult to find affordable places to rent, particularly as more high-end apartments and condos are being built in downtown St. Petersburg. The cost of buying a home is also increasing in many parts of the district, creating a challenge for first-time homebuyers. Housing is slightly more affordable in parts of the district outside of St. Petersburg, particularly in Pinellas Park, but prices are going up there as well.
According to the most recent data from Zillow the median price of homes currently listed in Pinellas County is $289,900 while the median price of homes that sold was $243,000. Opportunities for affordable homeownership still present challenges for many working families. What will you do to expand access to affordable homeownership for working families?
I have been a longtime advocate for affordable housing and will continue to fight in Tallahassee against the raiding of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that these funds are used for their intended purpose – making affordable housing more accessible to the most vulnerable Floridians.
Availability of Affordable Housing
According to the University of Florida Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, within our regional MSA which encompasses both Pinellas and Pasco counties there are only 53 available affordable housing units for every 100 households under 60% AMI. What investments or policy would you champion to address the growing gap between what citizens can afford and housing costs?
I strongly support the efforts of Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg to increase affordable housing options available to households under 60% AMI and 50% AMI. However, our municipalities cannot handle this crisis alone, and the Florida Legislature needs to step up and put more funding towards programs that help with down payment and rental payment assistance.
Racial Disparities in Homeownership
In Pinellas County there is a 31.6% gap between White (69.1%) and African America/ Black (37.5%) homeownership rates, which is higher than both the State gap of 24.% and national gap of 28%. How will you reduce the racial homeownership disparities in households of color?
The State of Florida and municipalities should consider funding programs that specifically address racial homeownership disparities in households of color as part of a holistic approach that tackles other equity issues. While funding programs that specifically target this issue would be a strong step in the right direction, we must simultaneously address other issues of discrimination and racism, such as those related to education, criminal justice reform, and employment, to truly solve the problem.
Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund
The Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund is funded through an incremental increase in doc stamps to provide a dedicated source of revenue for affordable housing. In recent years the fund has generated over $300 million in revenue annually. Unfortunately, Trust Fund is often ‘swept’ to fill other budget holes or needs within the State. How would you work with the Appropriations Chair and/or leadership to ensure funds are appropriated for their original intent?
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I fought against the sweeping of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund because I believe it’s imperative for these funds to be used for their intended purpose. I was pleased that these funds were fully appropriated in 2020. However, it will be important to remain vigilant during the next legislative session, particularly as the Legislature is looking to address significant holes in the budget due to the Coronavirus.
The availability of affordable land continues to remain a challenge. What role can local government(s) play to help mitigate raising land costs?
Local governments can help mitigate rising land costs in several ways, including creating more inclusive zoning requirements that allow, for example, for apartments to be built in neighborhoods that are traditionally only occupied by single-family homes. Local governments can also consider creating community land trusts that will be used for developing affordable housing.
Specific to Housing
Any additional information pertaining to affordable housing you would like the voters to know?
I am extremely grateful to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties for the hard work they do to provide more people with the opportunity for homeownership and advocacy on affordable housing issues. I look forward to continuing our work together on these important issues.
To learn more about our advocacy efforts, please click here.