Florida Realtors was among the trade organizations that announced their legislative priorities this week as the state Legislature began its session, and the list includes a lot of issues important to St. Johns County.
The organization addressed the vacation rental debate, took a stand on the assignment of benefits practice and even proposed aid for low-income housing.
With home prices climbing in recent years, especially in this county, Florida Realtors is asking for more money for affordable housing initiatives.
In its release, Florida Realtors stressed the importance of taking steps to make this state a place that is still attractive to new residents. It highlighted a report from the National Association of Realtors that ranked Florida the sixth least affordable state.
The organization wants the state housing trust funds to be directed to as many programs as possible to help people buy homes.
“In support of our original position from 1992, Realtors will continue to advocate for as much funding as possible for affordable housing,” Florida Realtors Treasurer Cheryl Lambert said in the release. “These trust fund dollars positively impact our communities by giving thousands of Floridians the ability to achieve the American dream of homeownership.”
The trust fund money is often diverted to other projects, and the Miami Herald reported in November that Gov. Rick Scott recommended $230.3 million for housing programs, the most since he became governor seven years ago.
Locally, St. Johns Housing Partnership executive director Bill Lazar said every dollar that trickles down to St. Johns County makes a huge difference. Higher prices for buyers and renters coupled with damage from hurricanes the last two years has added to the pressure on middle- and low-income earners here.
“It’s not getting any easier,” Lazar said.
He added that getting money from the housing trust fund allows him to leverage funds from that program to receive other grants or make downpayments on important projects.
• With the rise of Airbnb use coupled with St. Augustine’s continued rise as a tourist destination, the use of regular residential property for short-term rentals is a divisive issue in some communities here.
While some residents might find the practice to be out of line for their neighborhoods, other argue it’s their right use their property as they see fit. The latter argument rings true for Florida Realtors, as 2018 Florida Realtors president-elect Eric Sain explained in a release.
“Unfortunately, local governments see vacation rentals as a disruption to the community and are trying to discourage the practice by infringing on people’s property rights,” Sain said. “We are urging the Legislature to step in and prevent property rights from being undermined.”
• Florida Realtors has also come out against the assignment of benefits practices used by some cleanup and construction companies when dealing with insurance claims. The companies get the policyholders to sign over all insurance benefits directly to them to cover the cost of the work.
That leads to larger — often unnecessarily larger — claims and drives up costs for everyone, Florida Realtors contends.
“Realtors are going to make it clear that drastic reform of the Assignment of Benefits process is needed to cut down on the abuse that drives up insurance premiums for property owners,” Florida Realtors public policy committee vice chair Tim Weisheyer said in the release.