There could be some help in the future for affordable housing with a potential housing bill in Tallahassee

Mayor of Monroe County Holly Merrill Raschein joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county. 

The legislative session is in full swing in Tallahassee and Florida Keys Day was quite successful. 

Raschein said, “It was a fantastic turnout from folks from the Florida Keys. We had an awesome presence up there. We had, obviously elected officials, we had county and city staff. We had nonprofits, we had the college was there, our school district was there. We just took the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the keys. Every entity sort of had its own separate agenda. But obviously we are the Keys and all of those issues that we’re up there lobbying for affect us down here. One of the main ones that we worked on was the housing bill that Representative Jim Mooney and Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez are sponsoring for us. An important component is in there. We experienced a one time major pop in tourism during the pandemic, we were open, folks could drive here when the Caribbean was shut down, Europe was shut down where the whole world was shut down and we were very much open. So there was there are some funds that are surplus. All of the obligations have been paid out of this tourist development tax fund. So that money is just sitting there. We worked with our local representatives. We actually worked with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to draft some language that they were comfortable with. Anytime you want to tinker with the TDC tax, it sort of raises a lot of flags in Tallahassee. So we we really worked hard on that. We really made it super tailored to the Keys to use it for workforce housing. There isn’t any day that goes by that folks don’t talk about the need and the crisis we’re in. So that bill was actually heard this week in the House. So it’s moving forward. I hear next week, it’s going to be heard in the Senate. So good stuff.”

What is the procedure to get the bill through? 

Raschein explained, “It’s still making its way through the committee process, I believe on both sides, it got three committee references. So it I’ll have to move through those. It should because they’re just finishing up I think, what is it week four? If we start to run out of time, you can always request that those bills be withdrawn from their last committee of reference, and then obviously put right on to the calendar to be heard on the floor. We haven’t got to that point yet. We’ve got a good team up there that’s working hard for us.”

Has there been any talk of budget cuts? 

Raschein said, “I don’t know about I don’t know about cutting the funding, but we did get some reports from leadership, especially on the House side, that they may be workshopping the TDC funding issue. Because I think other communities are experiencing what we’re experiencing. Obviously, tourism is the number one industry in the state, followed by agriculture, and then the military. Florida is a very different state from the 80s when that tax was voted in. Tourism wasn’t huge. People weren’t flocking to Florida, from Europe or all around the country. It’s become quite the destination. So maybe it is time to to revisit that and the use of those funds, because those tourists have impacted our communities. So that’s what it is. It’s a tourist impact tax. So we’ll talk about that.”

Hurricane evacuation modeling is also a big topic of discussion. 

Raschein said, “We recently made a decision on the charter county discussions that we’ve been having because of that, because the hurricane evacuation model work is is more pressing. In my opinion, it’s more pressing. The state is awaiting our input. This is obviously extremely complicated and we’re mapping the future of the Keys with regard to development and infrastructure and conservation. As we were discussing on Wednesday during our BOCC meeting, we said, you know what? Let’s hit the pause button. I didn’t feel that it was cooked, I didn’t feel it was ready to present to the voters. We have taken opportunities to go out and educate folks on what it means to be a charter county versus what it doesn’t. But I just wasn’t, again, personally feeling ready. I don’t know that I was supportive, quite frankly, of becoming a charter county. I think the way that we govern ourselves works. We do a good job, obviously, when issues come up, we tackle them and becoming a charter county really does change things up quite a bit, or it doesn’t. I mean, it depends on what how we write the charter. But again, major election year, a lot going on, the hurricane evacuation models sucking the air out of the room. So I think we made a wise decision and should we need to revisit this in the future, we can. But we certainly made a major pivot in changing our agenda.”

Is there pressure from Tallahassee to move the hurricane evacuation modeling along? 

Raschein said, “No, they’re kind of taking our lead, which we’re grateful for. Obviously, this is incredibly important and they want to hear from us and certainly, we don’t feel like they’re being heavy handed. Like, here’s your drop dead deadline. But we do need to get moving on it. We knew that this was coming and now we’ve got some hard numbers to work with from the state. What we’re doing on our end is we’re pulling the numbers locally. How many lots are buildable? How many are sort of in that middle realm? How many are hammock that should be bought and conserved? All of this impacts how many cars are on the road? What do we need to do to make those roads better? How much water are people going to need? All of these things are part of that formula, if you will, or part of the calculation. We don’t have that in our grasp yet, but we are working on it. Obviously, there’s a lot of folks that have strong opinions on both sides. I have a feeling if I had a crystal ball, we’re going to fall somewhere in the middle. I think that’ll be just right, the Goldilocks approach.”

Stewardship funding still looks good. 

Raschein said, “They were in the governor’s budget. Huge win. Something I want to put on the radar, they are talking about vacation rentals. Oh, gosh, what a hot mess. So this comes up. I always say this ‘when I was in the legislature,’ but this issue flares up pretty much every year. It’s just so hard. It’s so complicated, because every community is different with regard to how they treat vacation rentals. Certainly, we have a ton here. I have my own opinion on them. I think they’re important. I think property rights are important. But I also think community character is important and making sure that your actual residents have homes is important. So they’re talking about a registration process that local governments can follow that these owners will have to abide by, obviously, we’re gonna have to work with our tax collector, and tax collectors around the state to make sure that this is implemented correctly. So it’ll be interesting to see where they land.”