2018 State of Florida CDBG-DR Action Plan
By The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has published its 2018 State of Florida CDBG-DR Action Plan for how it proposes to spend $791 million dollars in federal funds to meet the housing needs of low and moderate-income Irma survivors. Comments are due to DEO no later than Friday May 4, 2018 at 5pm. A roadmap of some of the issues you may want to raise in your comments can be found below.
1. Increase the opportunity for citizen participation in the State Action Plan (SAP) by:
a. Extending the deadline for receiving public comments to Tuesday, May 8, 2018. While we understand the state of Florida is only required to provide a 14-day public comment period, extending the deadline will increase the ability of people to participate in the process.
b. Provide an opportunity for public hearings to be held across the state before submitting the final state action plan. Hurricane Irma was a massive storm impacting most of the state. Holding public hearings in multiple locations would increase the ability of people across the state to participate in the citizen comment period. This is particularly important given that 20% of Floridians over 16 years old lack basic reading skills. This is especially true in some of the hardest hit counties of Florida.
c. Make resources accessible to people with language barriers, including those who speak Spanish, Vietnamese, or Creole. To address its LEP populations in the impacted counties, Florida should develop a detailed Language Action Plan (LAP), which would address outreach techniques to inform Limited English Proficient (LEP) people of their right to access this important program. As part of the LAP, Florida should look to HUD guidelines suggesting that vital materials should be translated.1 For example, HUD guidelines specify 1 that “HUD would expect translations of vital documents to be provided when the eligible LEP population in the market area or the current beneficiaries exceeds 1,000 persons or if it exceeds 5 percent of the eligible population or beneficiaries along with more than 50 persons.”2 Across the twelve counties hit hardest by 2 Hurricane Irma, there are many LEP communities that meet the 1,000 person threshold. In addition to Spanish, many of the impacted counties have qualifying LEP populations that speak Creole, Russian, Polish, or another Slavic language, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, and Arabic. We recommend that Florida make materials in all of these languages to allow substantive public comment from the communities impacted and likely to apply for aid.
d. Make resources available to people with disabilities. We commend the state for including people with disabilities as one of the groups prioritized for assistance in the SAP. However, to allow persons with disabilities access to and an opportunity to provide input into the SAP, both the SAP and DEO’s website (where the SAP is posted), must be in compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). This is particularly important for persons whose disability prevents them from accessing DEO’s website and the SAP, such as persons who are visually or mobility impaired and persons with cognitive disabilities. Approximately 13.7% of persons in Florida have a disability. Of persons with disabilities who are of working age, 25.8% live in poverty.3 We suggest that DEO take immediate steps 3 to make its website and the SAP compliant with both Section 504 and the ADA so that the thousands of Floridians with disabilities who are impacted by DEO’s proposal have equal access in providing input.
2. Maintain the current threshold for income targeting for CDBG-DR funds to make sure that the people who are most in need of housing are able to obtain housing. Currently, 70% of CDBG-DR funds must be used for the benefit of low and moderate income (LMI) people and communities. As estimated by the State of Florida, the federal disaster recovery funds being directed to the state will not meet all of the affordable housing need. Therefore, it is important that these dollars be directed in a way that provides maximum recovery benefits. The program budget contained in the SAP focuses on assisting renter households through the Workforce Affordable Rental New Construction Program. However, the SAP does not define what constitutes workforce housing or that such housing will be affordable to LMI households. Florida’s wages, especially for low-income workers, have not kept up with the price of housing. In addition, several impacted populations may not be able to work, including seniors and people with disabilities.
3. Allocate resources equitably between homeowners and renters. Several state disaster recovery resources have already been directed at assisting homeowners. For example, Florida has made special allocations under its State Housing Initiatives Partnership program (SHIP), to provide assistance to homeowners post-disaster. However, the SHIP program prioritizes assistance for homeowners by requiring that 65 percent of allocated funds be spent on homeownership activities. Units housing low-income households, many of whom are renters, represent 75% of the units damaged from Hurricane Irma. It is important that the CDBG-DR allocation recognize the decrease in homeownership and increase in renter households that has taken place in the state.4
4. Allocate funding for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA). The SAP provides funding for new construction for rental housing but does little to address the needs of tenants who were displaced due to hurricane damage and are in need of housing now. Prior to the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, Florida was already experiencing an affordable rental housing shortage in several of the counties most impacted by the storm.5 As such, we recommend providing TBRA that can be extended for up to 48 5 months while renters wait for new affordable rental housing to be constructed.
5. Prohibit recipients of federal and state disaster recovery funds from refusing to rent to tenants based on their source of income. Florida’s fair housing statute does not currently prohibit discrimination based on source of income, thereby allowing housing providers to refuse to rent to people who receive assistance with paying their rent. LIHTC properties are already prohibited from refusing to rent to Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher participants.6 Such a requirement ensures that low income families have 6 access to affordable housing in more areas and are not forced to live in housing in high poverty and/or low opportunity areas.
6. Require 50 year affordability period to address long-term affordability and maximize the federal investment. The SAP only requires a 20 year affordability period for rental housing rehabilitated under the Housing Repair Program. Yet, the current affordability restriction for Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties in Florida is 50 years. There’s no reason why the affordability restrictions for affordable rental housing developed with CDBG-DR funds should be less than 50 years.
7. Provide low income residents with the ability to return to their communities. The SAP provides funding for land acquisition for affordable workforce housing as well as home buyout programs. However, there is no discussion as to what will happen to tenants or homeowners displaced by such programs. With regard to tenants, the SAP should provide a right of first refusal to tenants displaced by land acquisition programs as well as one for one replacement of rental units lost by such activities.
8. Provide funding to address the preservation of damaged rental units. The SAP designates funding for new construction under the LIHTC program, but there doesn’t appear to be any set asides for using the LIHTC program for rehabilitation to preserve affordable rental housing. Florida currently utilizes 15% of its LIHTC funding for preservation. Therefore, the SAP should set aside at least 15% of the LIHTC funding for preservation to rehabilitate existing affordable housing units. This would greatly increase the effectiveness of the LIHTC program, as preservation requires far less subsidy per unit than new construction.
9. Reduce barriers for LMI households to LIHTC properties. LIHTC properties often have admission policies which prevent LMI households from accessing the housing and are designed to screen people out instead of screening people in to housing. These include policies such as charging application fees as high as $85 for each adult applying; requiring applicants to pay a security deposit, first and last month’s rent, and miscellaneous fees up front; minimum income requirements for tenants with rental assistance; and unreasonable criminal and credit background checks. These policies deter many households from applying. For those that do apply, they are rejected because of these policies. Reducing the entry barriers to LIHTC properties is necessary to ensure that LMI households are able to access this housing.
10. Eliminate barriers to continued occupancy in LIHTC properties. Many LIHTC properties utilize continued occupancy policies that result in households unnecessarily losing their housing. For example, Section 5.2 E.4 of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation Manual permits rent increases during the term of lease when HUD issues new income limits, if so provided in the lease. Many LMI renters are already rent burdened such that an unexpected increases in their monthly rent during the middle of their lease term can lead to eviction or homelessness.
11. Assess the rehabilitation needs of federally subsidized affordable housing units. In the SAP, the only attempt at assessing the damage caused to federally subsidized housing units appears to be letters that were sent to PHAs and to which no PHAs responded. However, the majority of federally subsidized housing units, such as Project Based Section 8 properties, are owned and operated by private housing providers. As such, the state should obtain a copy of the Preliminary Disaster Assessment for Florida and the Affected Portfolio List/and Tracking Reports for HUD-funded properties in Florida to make an accurate assessment of the impact on HUD-funded properties.
12. Provide training to ensure that recipients of CDBG-DR funds comply with federal civil rights laws.
1 HUD suggests that “[t]he recipient may conduct an individualized assessment that balances the following four factors: (1) Number or proportion of LEP persons served or encountered in the eligible service population (“served or encountered” includes those persons who would be served or encountered by the recipient if the persons were afforded adequate education and outreach); (2) frequency with which LEP persons come into contact with the program; (3) nature and importance of the program, activity, or service provided by the program; and (4) resources available to the recipient and costs to the recipient.”
2 72 FR 2731
3 Cornell University, 2016 Disability Status Report: Florida at https://goo.gl/b7ejox.
4 See e.g., Florida’s Affordable Rental Housing Needs: An Update by The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.
5 See e.g., Florida’s Affordable Rental Housing Needs: An Update by The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies; Affordable Rental Housing Trends: Orlando Area by The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies; Affordable Rental Housing Trends: South Florida by The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.
6 26 U.S.C. § 42(h)(6)(B).
This article was originally posted on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity website.