By Lori Pampilo Harris, executive director, Habitat for Humanity of Florida
In Florida, Habitat has helped more than 11,000 partner families move into simple, decent, affordable houses. To help even more, part of Habitat’s responsibility here includes advocacy and public awareness with our local and state elected officials.
In 1991, a diverse group of advocates came together to obtain a dedicated revenue source for Florida’s affordable housing programs. Habitat affiliates throughout the state have historically accessed these funds to aid our efforts to provide a hand-up to Floridians in need of decent housing.
This year, that fund — the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund — faced the threat of extinction. With a large budget gap, Florida’s elected officials were exploring all revenue options. In an attempt to secure those trust funds for their intended purpose only, Habitat of Florida trained, equipped and mobilized affiliates, advocates and partners to act on these critical priorities. Our affiliates rallied, met with legislators, wrote editorials, called and emailed.
The theme for the state’s legislature was “Jobs and Economic Development.” Well, in tough economic times, we found that in about 30 percent of our affiliates’ service areas, Habitat is either the only builder still building or is the top-producing builder in the community. We detailed our neighborhood revitalization initiative and explained its economic impact. For every $1 million of state funding for housing, $7.66 million of economic activity is generated. Habitat not only builds homes; we create jobs and economic development!
Unfortunately, the state legislature ended its session this month by moving the Sadowski Fund to a new “super trust fund” dedicated to job development. The move is permanent until 2015. While it seems like Habitat lost, we realize that we have still gained quite a bit from our efforts.
Our affiliates and supporters came together like never before, delivering a cohesive message in a strong, collective voice. And since the campaign, legislators and government officials have told us that they didn’t realize our housing product mix is so diversified. As a result, legislators and state agencies are exploring how Habitat could participate in other programs designed to aid economic recovery for families in our state.
We now have the opportunity to bring more attention than ever before. Our advocacy efforts have made us even more dedicated to our core belief that every Floridian should have access to affordable homeownership.