A lot has changed in a year, and although we still expect the Florida Legislature to move forward with “resiliency” to rising sea levels, we are certain the 2021 Legislative Session will look to address a near $3 billion budget deficit, COVID-19 liability protections, and a surplus of issues that have risen in the aftermath of the pandemic. In 2021, it is vital for policymakers to understand that subsidized housing does not equate to affordable housing – and with the inability to depend on affordable housing trust fund dollars, there are non-budgetary actions legislators can take to combat the housing crisis currently plaguing our State.
Both the Governor’s office and the Florida House have reached out inquiring what actions can be taken to keep Florida builders building. Whether it is streamlining the building permit process, incentivizing electronic plan reviews, continuing virtual hearings, or simply fighting back local governments who look to balance their depleted revenues on the backs of builders – the issues in 2021 will not be hard to come by. FHBA priority issues include, but are not limited to:
As local government revenues decrease due to COVID-19 shutdowns, many jurisdictions will look to increase impact fees to offset their shortfalls. Because impact fees should only be used to support infrastructure projects such as roads, water, sewer, and schools, statutorily defining infrastructure and public facilities will allow us to reign in local governments who believe new construction is solely responsible for paying for and correcting all the budget deficiencies of past growth. Luckily, last year’s HB 1339 will allow us for the first time to see, due to a new mandatory annual report provided to the Florida Department of Financial Services, a list of impact fee expenditures for every jurisdiction in our state. This will give us the data necessary to continue the fight in defining infrastructure and ensuring impact fees are collected and used only for true capital projects.
Lastly, an annual impact fee cap will help delay local governments from artificially increasing the costs of homes. There are examples across the state of local governments doubling impact fees in the height of a pandemic and effectively inflating the costs of new homes during an affordable housing crisis. An annual impact fee cap will help alleviate the drastic increases in fees, give builders the security and budget predictability necessary, and prevent local governments from hindering growth.
Construction Defects Reform
The “Notice and Right to Cure” law was created in 2003 to keep claims out of the court room. An owner notified their contractor of a problem on a project, the contractor inspected it, and they together determined the best course of action. However, under current practices we see firms issuing cookie cutter 558 claims, many of which are hundreds of pages long, to contractors and their teams. Unfortunately, the notices to contractors about the alleged defects often lack specificity by using broad language and not identifying the specific location of the alleged defect. Additionally, offers by home builders to repair the alleged defects are routinely rejected as a small group of attorneys are looking for financial settlements instead of fixing the problem. An FHBA priority, this year we will look to clean up these trial bar invasions and restore the true intent of the Right to Cure law.
Natural gas restrictions
There are movements occurring throughout the Country, most recently in New Jersey, where the State’s Legislature is looking to ban natural gas for residential homes by 2026. This year, the construction coalition will look to address this impending government overreach and prevent the ban from occurring in the State of Florida.
COVID-19 Liability Protections
Some states have established “presumption” through Executive Orders or Legislation, which states that if an employee tests positive for COVID-19 it is assumed the employee contracted it at work. For example, in California, the state presumes that an employee’s COVID-19 illness is an occupational injury and therefore eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. These policies are clearly devastating for small businesses as it places fear in an owner’s decision to reopen their doors and attempt to climb out of the recession.
This past summer, FHBA participated in a Restore Economic Strength through Employment and Tourism (RESET) task force and together developed draft legislation that will look to exempt essential businesses from COVID-19 liability and provide heightened evidentiary standards for other small businesses. I.e. a requirement to have clear and convincing evidence to establish liability, rather than a mere preponderance of evidence. Both the Florida Senate and Florida House are projected to establish select committees to address Coronavirus related concerns.
As you well know, lumber has skyrocketed from below $300 per 1000 board feet in April to an all-time high of $934 back in August due to: Lumber mills misreading the market and cutting back production, the increase of “do-it-yourself” (DIY) as Home Depot and Lowes have increased consumption, and of course tariffs. There have been talks of opening federal lands, however, depending on the election a potential solution would be temporarily or permanently ending the 20 percent tariff on lumber imports from Canada. That would drastically reduce the costs, as those tariffs have been artificially increasing the price since 2017. This issue will be decided at the federal level; however, we will continue to relay the message through our elected state officials and by working closely with NAHB.
Almost every issue touches our industry one way or another. In 2020 alone, the FHBA lobbying team ensured any jurisdiction that had the audacity to use linkage fees for affordable housing, fully offset all costs to builders and developers. The team also defeated amendments that sought to use excess building permit fees for affordable housing, move monies away from apprenticeship programs, and even sought to use impact fees for affordable housing. These poor policy proposals will surely find their way on an amendment in 2021. As we head into the final days of 2020, please remember, Florida’s 2021 Regular Session is right around the corner – convening Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Director of Governmental Affairs