Gov. Ron DeSantis expresses approval for $100 million program to help teachers, police officers buy homes

As he prepares to act on a proposed state budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday backed a new $100 million program to help people such as teachers, health-care workers and police officers buy homes.

Amid soaring housing costs in many parts of Florida, DeSantis said during a news conference at the Cape Coral Police Department that the “Hometown Heroes” program is needed so people in a number of professions can live in or close to the communities they serve.

“It really matters if they can afford to have a home here and live in the community and shop in the same store … and see everybody than if you have to commute from, like, far away, just because 45 minutes away maybe is where you can find a home that’s affordable for you,” DeSantis said.

Lawmakers approved the program in March, though it and other budget issues have not formally been sent to DeSantis, who has line-item veto power.

The $100 million would be carved out of $209 million allocated for the State Housing Initiative Partnership program, or SHIP. The SHIP program supports local-government programs intended to encourage the construction of affordable housing and to assist low-income residents with repairs, down payments and closing costs.

While the money for the Hometown Heroes program won’t be available until the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, Florida Housing Finance Corp. Executive Director Trey Price said eligible people can begin to apply on June 1.

The funding will offer borrowers up to 5 percent —- at a maximum of $25,000 —- on first mortgage loans for down-payment and closing-cost assistance.

“Hometown Heroes is the highest-income eligible program we’ll be offering, which will allow more hard-working middle-class families to take advantage of these resources,” Price said.

DeSantis also said he will sign off on an overall $362.7 million in the budget for affordable housing, which includes the SHIP funding.

In addition, voters in November will consider a proposed constitutional amendment that would give additional housing assistance to teachers, law-enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency-medical technicians, paramedics, child-welfare services professionals, active-duty military members and Florida National Guard members.

Under current law, homeowners can qualify for homestead property-tax exemptions on the first $25,000 of the appraised value of property. They also can qualify for $25,000 homestead exemptions on the value between $50,000 and $75,000. Any higher property value is taxable.

Under the proposal, which was put on the ballot by the Legislature, homeowners in the targeted professions could receive an additional $50,000 exemption, which would apply to the property value between $100,000 and $150,000.

The current exemption for the value between $50,000 and $75,000 doesn’t apply to property taxes collected for school districts, and neither would the proposed amendment.

If approved by 60 percent of the voters, the exemption is projected to save $80.9 million for the targeted property owners next fiscal year, with the annual savings growing to $93.6 million in five years.

The Florida Association of Counties has expressed concerns the proposal would shift more of the tax burden to renters, including members of the targeted professions, and businesses.