| Climate and Resiliency Become Important Session Theme|
|Two bills that aim to address the adverse effects of sea level rise and flooding caused by climate change sped through the House and Senate committees and were signed by the Governor. HB 7019 (Rep. Busatta Cabrera, R-Coral Gables) and its Senate companion, SB 1954 (Sen. Rodrigues, R-Estero), create the Resilient Florida Grant Program within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), authorizing the Department to provide grants to local governments to help combat rising sea levels.|
The bill provides $100 million in grant funding (subject to appropriation) to local governments to fund resiliency planning and supports vulnerability assessments and mitigation plans to prepare for the threats of flooding and sea level rise. The bill authorizes counties to enter into agreements to form regional coalitions to plan for the resilience needs of communities and to coordinate intergovernmental solutions. The bill requires DEP to develop a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise data set by July 2022. By July 1, 2023, DEP must use the data to complete a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise assessment. The bill also creates the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation within the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. The data would be used to inform a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan, which would be updated and submitted to the Governor and the Legislature every three years.
A complementary bill, HB 7021, also filed by Rep. Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables), and its Senate companion, SB 2514, filed by Senate Appropriations, guarantees funding for the projects mentioned in HB 7019/SB 1954 by establishing the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within DEP (to be terminated on or before July1, 2025). The trust would also cover the cost to implement the plan, the operation of the grant program, the grants, and the administrative and operational costs of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation.
So, where are the funds coming from?
While climate change appears to be a bipartisan issue in the legislature this year, the vehicle to fund these programs is not. HB 5401 and SB 2512 will sweep a portion of the money that would go into affordable housing into a wastewater grant program and the resiliency program to address the problems caused by flooding and sea-level rise across the state.
Earlier in April, legislators had agreed to provide $141 million (in 2021) in documentary stamp revenues for affordable housing, based on a new formula with the remaining two-thirds being split equally between the Resilient Florida Trust Fund and the Water Protection and Sustainability Trust Fund. But after complaints from affordable housing groups, House and Senate leadership increased the apportionment to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to $200 million annually with $111 million going annually each for flooding and septic-to-sewer programs.
Currently, funds from the affordable housing trust fund go to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership and the State Apartment Incentive Loan program, which provide grants to local governments for down payment assistance to qualified new homebuyers, housing repair assistance, and provides developers with an incentive to build low-cost housing. Most legislators were supportive of the state moving forward with much needed resiliency initiatives; several others were not pleased that affordable housing funds would be permanently reduced to pay for the new programs.
In addition, $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds have also been set aside towards the Resilient Florida Trust Fund.