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Introducing the FLORIDA Hometown Heroes Program

Since 2016, median home prices in Florida have risen by over 58 percent. Despite this alarming rise, household income is yet to increase. It's increasingly becoming difficult to afford a home in the Sunshine State, which once promised residents of a fair house market.

As the Sunshine State sinks deeper into a housing crisis, more hometown heroes such as teachers, nurses, and police officers find it hard to afford a home. Luckily, Florida Realtors is pushing for two significant programs to give relief to these heroes. The move is motivated by Florida Realtors' commitment to advocating for affordable housing policies in the state.

We prepared this guide to inform you about the new Hometown Heroes Program. The Hometown Heroes Housing Program is projected to improve housing affordability for these heroes. Eligible workers and educators enjoy down payment and closing cost assistance from the program.


What it Takes to Afford a Median-Priced Home in Florida

Florida housing prices may appear relatively cheaper than California or New York for some. If you move to Florida from places like Tennessee or Ohio, you may find the prices expensive. Either way, it's essential to know the median home price in the Sunshine State.

Floridians need an average yearly income of $62,000 to afford a median-priced home. The type of house you can afford in Florida will depend on your income. debts, down payment, and mortgage interest rate. Your annual income will be way below a median-priced home if you are among the hometown heroes.

Here's a breakdown of how much some hometown heroes in the Sunshine State earn:

  • Middle School Teachers - $57,280
  • Elementary School Teachers - $56,540
  • Firefighters - $49,870
  • Licensed Practical Nurses - $46,290
  • Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics - $33,660

Understanding Florida's Housing Crisis

Florida's population has been growing by about 1,000 residents each day for a very long time. The population is adequate enough to fill a new city the same size as Orlando every year. Home construction has been one of the most significant forces driving the Sunshine State's economy for over four decades.

As new people flock to Florida, they need homes to live in. The housing industry is thriving in planning, construction, and home sales as these demands keep rising.

Population growth has heavily boosted the sale of single-family homes in Florida. Median home prices are also rising, having increased by 73 percent in the last 30 years ($155,824 back in 1990 to $269,400 as of 2020). The sad part is that frontline workers are yet to see their wages adjust to these price changes, making home affordability a big issue.

Amidst the pandemic, the term "home" had an entirely new meaning to many Floridians. Homes were no longer just a residence since they became a full-time, accessible sanctuary from the uncertainty and worries of the pandemic. People used their homes to advance their careers and education at a time when staying inside was a must.


What the Numbers Have to Say

The median sale price of a single-family residential property in the Sunshine State was $355,000 as of September 2021. It increased by 18.3 percent from the previous year and a shocking 59.2 percent in the previous five years.

Consequently, the median sales price for a home in the state exceeded the $400,000 mark as October was ending in 2021. The sales prices didn't go beyond $189,000 across all Florida counties.

Data sourced from the United States Census Bureau reveals that Florida's median household income rose by less than 5 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. At that time, it reached the $59,227.2 mark. Frontline workers and educators were among the Floridians whose salaries were below the state's median household income.

The rise in home values posed a unique challenge for people looking to own a home, especially the Hometown Heroes. Housing market research data even reveals that frontline workers are disadvantaged along the lines of home affordability.


Affordability (or Not) – By the Numbers

Floridians need a household income of about $62,000 a year to afford monthly mortgage payments on a median-priced residential property. The challenge is that the average incomes for frontline workers and educators fall short. Hometown Heroes cannot afford median-priced homes even when they use less than 30 percent of their annual wages toward mortgage payments.

When you consider this data, the dream of homeownership for most Hometown Heroes is far out of reach. Their income doesn't even come close to them to afford a 2-bedroom apartment comfortably and sustain a modern family. Without home financing help, frontline workers and educators risk stretching their budget close to the breaking point.


Why are Housing Prices High in Florida

Currently, the demand for residential properties in the state outpaces the supply. Factors such as permitting delays, complicated impact fees, and land-use regulations drive the high housing prices in the Sunshine State. Households are struggling to find affordable housing amidst this chaos.

As Florida's population rises rapidly, the housing supply fails to keep up. As a result, median sales prices for homes across the state are five times higher than the median household incomes. The prices are also way above the recommended income to housing price ratios.

Housing supply falls short of the demand and leads to high prices due to strict permitting delays and land-use regulations. Regulations like building permit limits, building height limits, and minimum lot sizes make it hard for developers to set up homes in a particular area.


How Local Governments are Making Things Worse

It's even tougher to build a home in more attractive areas like southwest Florida. The permitting delays affect the housing costs since developers are forced to pay for land and materials. Local authorities make this factor a requirement even when construction is yet to begin.

Permitting delays and land-use regulations in Florida add between $20,000 and $27,000 to a house's total costs, particularly in Floridian communities. The cost increase predominantly affects smaller houses more than bigger ones since it is a percent of the total house price. In this case, low-income people looking to buy smaller houses will have to incur the costs brought by the regressive permitting delays and land-use regulations.

By imposing harsh impact fees, local governments are slowing housing development in the Sunshine State. These fees are usually levied on new constructions, so the local government can afford to pay for infrastructures such as schools and roads.


Group of people from different occupations standing together


Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program

Homeownership has always been the standard for attaining the American dream since World War II ended. The central belief behind this idea is that anyone could position themselves to get a good education and secure a good job. It is also believed that if you work hard enough and budget wisely, your reward will be owning a house.

Though many Floridians dream of owning a lovely house they can use to raise a family, the dream is slowly fading away. The reality on the ground and the fluctuating housing market are marking things worse.

Florida Realtors is acclaimed for being a persistent advocate for affordable housing. With contributions from more than 225,000 members, the institution has decades of experience pushing for the housing rights and needs of hardworking residents. The organization has worked with Florida's Local and State Housing Trust Funds to run several housing programs.

Over the recent past, countless Florida families have experienced the joy of owning a home. However, Florida Realtors acknowledges that more work still needs to be done to ensure affordable housing access.


What the Hometown Heroes Housing Program Seeks to Achieve

The Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program has approval from the Florida Legislature to make housing affordable to a specific group of people. It offers frontline workers closing costs and down payment assistance in their journey of becoming homeowners. It doesn't seek to change or affect any existing affordable housing programs serving low-income residents in Florida.

Instead, the Hometown Heroes program acts as a dedicated funding source for Hometown Heroes and their family members. The significant shifts heavily inspired it in employment and skyrocketing home prices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though housing costs were already rising before COVID-19 hit, they rose to a whole new level as the pandemic peaked.

Hometown Heros (including nurses and paramedics, educators, home health aides, law enforcement, and firefighters) were among the most affected residents. Florida Realtors acknowledge these heroes' dedicated perseverance amidst unexpected economic challenges. These housing challenges posed a considerable risk for many Floridians, who were about to lose their homes.

The Hometown Heroes Housing Program seeks to smoothen up the homeownership journey for these frontline workers. It offers frontline workers an opportunity to afford to live in safe, sustainable communities. Financing help offered through the program acknowledges the true spirit of service these heroes showcased.


How Hometown Heroes Housing Program Works

The Florida Hometown Heroes Program was proposed in the 2022 session of the Florida Legislature. It seeks to reflect the Sunshine State's deep sense of gratitude and obligation towards essential workers who put the needs of the state first in the wake of the pandemic. Though the housing crisis is nowhere near to becoming better, the program is like a "thank you" incentive to these heroes who whole-heartedly dealt with the struggles of others but are now struggling with homeownership struggles.

The Hometown Heroes Housing Program aims to minimize the initial cost of securing a home (provided the property will be used as a primary residence). It offers zero-interest loans to eligible servicemen and women to help them cover down payments and closing expenses.

Florida lawmakers approved the inclusion of $100 million in the 2022-23 budget year to cater to the financing offered through the Hometown Heroes Housing Program. They also passed a proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1, which offers an additional property tax exemption to those serving as most hometown hero professions members.

The loans are projected to offer up to 5 percent of the first mortgage loan amount (below $25,000). They will also be repaid during closing if the buyer decides to sell, refinance or rent out the program. However, the total amount will only be repaid unless the program administrators approve an exception.


Eligibility Requirements

Eligible Floridians are defined as families or individuals with incomes that don't exceed 150 percent of the local or state median income. All recipients need to have been employed full-time at the time of qualifying and receiving the loan. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation currently administers the Florida Hometown Heroes Housing program.

Specifically, the loan program is available to educators and workers working full-time as:

  • Law enforcement officers
  • Probation officers
  • 911 operators
  • Certified correctional officers
  • Paramedics
  • Firefighters
  • Teachers
  • Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)
  • Health care professionals
  • Education administrators

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation offers property tax relief for some Hometown Heroes under this financing program. Eligible heroes for the relief include:

  • Certified correctional officers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Teachers
  • Firefighters
  • Members of the Florida National Guard
  • Active-duty US military members
  • Child welfare services professionals

Frequently Asked Questions About the Hometown Heroes Program

The Hometown Heroes program connects Florida's heroes with local mortgage and real estate specialists when buying, selling, or refinancing a home. Frontline workers and educators get an opportunity to save more in their homeownership journey.

The long-term vision for this program is to strengthen Floridian communities by disbursing more cash to Florida's heroes and benefit local community businesses and programs. With that said, here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the program:

  • What Can Heroes Typically Save?  Once you qualify, you will be advised about the loan program and how it can help you secure affordable housing. As a hometown hero, you get to save money on down payments and closing costs when securing a home through the program. You also get to work with mortgage, title, and inspection specialists who will make the buying and closing process more manageable.

  • Should Credit Issues be a Concern?  The program caters to hometown heroes regardless of their credit issues. It offers them a loan to use when settling the down payment and closing costs in a home sale. Provided you've settled these expenses, qualifying for a mortgage will be less daunting.

About Florida Housing Finance Corporation

Also known as Florida Housing, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation was set up under the Florida legislature over four decades ago. Its mission is to offer Floridians a wide range of affordable housing opportunities. With this kind of help, the organization seeks to make the Sunshine State one of the best places to live, do business, and work.

With a vision of being recognized as an outstanding provider of data-driven, fiscally sustainable, and innovative housing solutions, Florida Housing has always put the needs of potential homeowners first. The corporation's goal is to leverage the capacity of the private sector and local governments, both for nonprofit and profit, to preserve and develop affordable housing. All programs offered through the corporation match the needs of the people served.

As a separate entity, the corporation isn't subject to any department's direction, supervision, or control. It is currently governed by a 9-member directors' board, with the management role handed over to an executive director. Besides the Hometown Heroes Program, other programs rolled out by Florida Housing include:


The Bottom Line

The Hometown Heroes who have been keeping Floridians safe, taking care of their families, and educating their children deserve an opportunity to live in safe, sustainable communities. Florida Realtors has been at the forefront in advocating for affordable housing for these heroes. In response to this advocacy, Florida lawmakers decided to include $100 million in the state-s 2022-23 fiscal year to fund the new Hometown Heroes Program.

There's more hope for heroes like nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers who are struggling to cope with the soaring housing prices in the Sunshine State. With this program, housing will be more affordable for these heroes since they get to enjoy down payment and closing cost assistance. Some of them even get to qualify for property tax exemption.

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