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Central Florida Housing Advocates Push For Affordable Homes Amid Rising Rent Rates

Shannon Nazworth is joined by Mayor Buddy Dyer and others at the groundbreaking of Village on Mercy. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Shannon Nazworth is joined by Mayor Buddy Dyer and others at the groundbreaking of Village on Mercy. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

With rent prices and Central Florida’s population on the rise, many residents are having a hard time finding housing within their budgets.

The Sadowski Coalition is a collection of more than 30 statewide organizations that sets aside funds for affordable housing. While in the past lawmakers have taken money from the Sadowski Trust for other parts of the budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for the trust to be used solely for housing purposes. Affordable housing advocates have backed the governor’s decision, and some Orlando lawmakers have proposed bills to give cities and counties more authority to impose rent control.

Sarah Elbadri, special projects manager with the West Lakes Partnership, Amanda Gill, government affairs director with the Florida Apartment Association, and Shannon Nazworth, president and CEO of Ability Housing, join Intersection to discuss  solutions to the housing crisis and local government’s role in creating more affordable housing.

The mixed-income community development initiative West Lakes Partnership was established to increase homeownership and rehabilitate housing. Elbadri says while rent rates have increased all over the Central Florida region, wages have remained stagnant and home ownership rates have declined overall.

Like many Central Florida communities, West Lakes faces a high demand for housing and a limited supply.

“With 200 units and thousands of people applying, of course you can’t all get in, and so it’s just really thinking about as a region, “How do we build more affordable housing?’”

As part of the nonprofit affordable housing developer Ability Housing, Nazworth contributed to a Florida-specific assessment on the impact of housing on health. The results of the assessment showed an individual’s health is directly impacted when they do not have reliable and safe housing.

“We’re learning more and more in the community that housing is one of the main social determinants of health, and so if people don’t have a stable, safe place [where] they can afford to live, they’re exposed to mold, rodents [and] all sorts of poor environments, plus the children have to change schools, etc.,” Nazworth says.

Nazworth said for the past few decades, the Florida Legislature has used the Sadowski Trust as more of a “balance the budget fund than a resource to build affordable housing.”

Nazworth said there is confusion over whether or not the state legislature will comply with Gov. DeSantis’ recommendation to use the Sadowski Trust only to pay for affordable housing.

“We’re getting conflicting words as to whether the senate is going to support [DeSantis] or not — some senators are saying there is no desire to sweep the trust fund, others are saying with the damage from [Hurricane] Michael there’s a lot of need and they may have to use the resources to serve the panhandle and address the storm damage,” Nazworth said.

Gill says one of the biggest issues housing advocates face is local leaders turning down the construction of affordable homes in their districts in favor of building single-family houses or retail businesses. Moving forward, she says groups like the Florida Apartment Association will continue to communicate the significance of housing choice to lawmakers.

“Our message point has really been the importance of housing choice and having lots of options for folks to choose from and also making it easier for folks to construct apartment homes in the areas where affordable housing is most needed,” Gill says.

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