Many of Florida’s hometown heroes — first responders, law enforcement, educators, and health care workers — fall far short of being able to purchase a home in the communities where they work, according to a new data analysis by Florida Realtors.
State Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Florida Realtors President Christina Pappas, and other leaders highlighted data showing the disparity between median home prices and salaries earned by many of the pandemic’s hardest-working Floridians.
The data points out that median home prices in Florida increased by 21 percent from 2020 to 2021 and by 58 percent since 2016. Hometown heroes, including firefighters, nurses, educators and EMTs, have not seen their wages increase a similar amount during that time period. According to the data, on average nurses would need to make $15,000 more a year, and EMTs and paramedics would need to earn $25,000 more a year, in order to afford homes in their own communities.
The data analysis comes as legislators discuss creating the Florida Hometown Hero Housing Program (SB 788) to provide zero-interest loans to help these workers with down payment and closing cost assistance. The legislation, sponsored by Hooper, has received unanimous approval in its two committee stops. It now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“These workers are incredibly courageous and, throughout the pandemic, they have kept us safe, cared for our families, and educated our children,” said Hooper this week. “We have to ensure we are also taking care of them. Median home prices are hitting over $400,000 in many Florida counties and we have to make sure we’re doing all we can to help these heroes.”
The legislation to create the program would reduce the initial cost of purchasing a home for eligible hometown heroes whose jobs have put them on the front lines of Florida’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible individuals include those from a specified list of professions and whose family incomes do not exceed 150 percent of the state or local median income.
“Today, I was excited to highlight the Hometown Heroes Housing Program and I cannot think of a more deserving group to advocate for than our frontline and emergency workers and their families. As your state Fire Marshal, I’ve seen first-hand the impacts these heroes have in our communities and the sacrifices they make day in and day out to keep us safe, especially during disasters. As your Chief Financial Officer, I tell people all the time that we don’t have a robust economy, great schools, great places to live, work, and build businesses without our first responders working in the background 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Patronis. “My wife Katie is a Realtor, and I’ve seen that when someone buys a home, they are more likely to excel in their career, invest in schools, and become stronger members of their community. Our first responders have our backs at a moment’s notice, and we must always have theirs. Thank you to Senator Hooper and the Florida Realtors for working to make the dream of homeownership a reality for our first responders.”
The Hometown Hero Housing Program would complement, but not impact, existing local, state, and federal affordable housing programs. The program would parallel the existing Salute Our Soldiers Military Loan Program, which has successfully helped hundreds of veterans and active-duty military personnel buy a home.
“Our state is facing an affordable housing crisis and we must do all we can to help the heroes who have done so much for us,” said Pappas. “Homeownership is regarded as the standard for achieving the American dream, but that’s getting harder and harder to attain. Florida Realtors has been a tireless advocate for affordable housing policies. The help provided by the Hometown Hero Housing Program will go a long way toward helping make this dream a reality for many workers.”
Data compiled by Florida Realtors shows that in December 2021, the median sale price of a single-family home in Florida was $373,990, up 21 percent from one year earlier — and a staggering 58.2 percent more than just five years before. Yet data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the state’s median household income in 2019 was up less than 5 percent from the previous year, reaching $59,227. The challenge of affording a home is even greater for workers such as those in law enforcement, health care and education, whose salaries typically fall well below the amount needed to cover down payment and closing costs.
A number of other organizations and associations have lined up to support the Hometown Hero Housing Program, including the Florida Professional Firefighters, Florida Sheriffs Association, Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Florida Health Care Association, Florida Nurses Association, Florida Ambulance Association, Florida National Emergency Number Association, and others.
“Florida’s professional firefighters never stopped doing their job despite the added risk of the pandemic,” said Florida Professional Firefighters President Wayne “Bernie” Bernoska. “Unfortunately, many firefighters struggle to afford a home. This program should help your local firefighters become homeowners in the communities that they serve.”
“Every day, law enforcement personnel across the state willingly put their lives on the line to protect the safety of the communities they serve. Yet despite their daily sacrifices, many of these brave heroes are simply unable to live in the communities they protect due to the rising cost of housing,” said Florida Sheriffs Association President and Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum. “We support the Hometown Hero Housing Program because it can help change that for many dedicated deputies, making it easier for them to find a home that they can call their own.”
“Teachers across Florida have done the near-impossible for the past two years, making sure children safely receive a quality education amid constantly changing protocols and policies,” said former state Sen. Bill Montford, the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “The pandemic reinforced the value of home, yet for too many educators, the ability to own a home is beyond their means. The Hometown Hero Housing Program would give them a realistic opportunity to afford the kind of home they need – which, after all their hard work, they certainly deserve.”
“The Florida health care professionals who go to work every day in nursing homes, caring for our state’s most vulnerable elders – these are true heroes. They should be able to live within the communities they serve, but the skyrocketing costs of housing has priced many of them out of the market,” said Florida Health Care Association CEO Emmett Reed. “The Hometown Hero Housing Program will put homeownership within reach for them, making a lifetime career in long-term care more realistic and rewarding. That’s increasingly important to ensure that we always have enough trained individuals to care for Florida’s growing aging population.”
“For almost two years, Florida’s nurses have made tremendous sacrifices on the front lines throughout an unprecedented pandemic,” said the Florida Nurses Association. “They have worked tirelessly and heroically in extremely challenging circumstances, even as we watched home prices move further out of reach, creating additional barriers to nurses in their personal lives. The Hometown Hero Housing Program is a signal to Florida’s nurses that their sacrifices are appreciated and that the State of Florida has a stake in helping them achieve home ownership.”
“Across the state of Florida, our EMT’s and Paramedics are relied upon to respond in our time of need. These are the everyday heroes in each of our communities,” said Terence Ramotar, the president of the Florida Ambulance Association. “The Florida Ambulance Association thanks Sen. Hooper and all those supporters that will allow these heroes to be homeowners in the communities they serve. SB 788 will allow more of our heroes to make that first down payment through this assistance program, while honoring their bravery and commitment.”
“Most people have no idea of the incredible stresses COVID-19 has placed on 911 operators. At the end of a shift, all we want to do is head home to a place of our own – but for too many, this isn’t possible because housing is so expensive,” said Dan Koenig, the former president of the Florida National Emergency Number Association. “By helping our 911 operators afford a home in the community they serve, this program would go a long way to keeping our operators happy and healthy, so they can continue serving the public in their time of need.”
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