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CRE Leaders Cheer DeSantis' Win, Push For More Action On Affordable Housing

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won a resounding re-election victory last week, which commercial real estate leaders hailed as a sign that the state will continue with its business-friendly ways.

In interviews with Bisnow, industry insiders said that DeSantis' policies have been good for business, but they hope he focuses more on affordable housing in his second term than his first amid the state's ongoing affordability crisis.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

"It's probably going to get to the point where it starts becoming a drag on Florida’s security to continue to grow the way it has," said Joe Hernandez, an attorney at Weiss Serota Helfman Cole + Bierman and a real estate lecturer at the University of Miami. "There's others coming here that are more middle-income, and they've got to be able to live [and] send their kids to school here.”

DeSantis defeated Democratic challenger Rep. Charlie Crist by nearly 20%, and CRE leaders said his decision to lift public health restrictions earlier than most other states was critical in supercharging Florida's economy and help bolster his campaign.

"I think a tremendous amount of credit has to go to DeSantis for how he kept businesses thriving during a time when most of the country was shut down," developer Asi Cymbal told Bisnow. "Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat — and I'm neither — you have to recognize that success."

Alex Ruiz, the president and chief operating officer of Hialeah developer Prestige Cos., said four more years of DeSantis — or two, depending on his presidential ambitions — is good for commercial real estate because of stability in the market.

“In terms of what sense this re-election has to do commercial real estate, any kind of stability in leadership always gives confidence to investors," Ruiz said. "And anytime you have stability, I think that leads to an increase in the market long-term.”

While the past two years have been a boon for owners of real estate in Florida, they have made it harder for lower-income people in the state.

Florida is the most rent-burdened state in the nation, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, with more than half of its renters paying over 30% of their income toward housing costs, and nearly a third paying 50% or more of their income to their landlords.

Earlier this year, Miami also became the most expensive housing market in the country as the flow of wealthy migrants from higher-tax states pushed demand for real estate through the roof. Even though prices have started to come down in recent months, they are still near historical records.

"I'm fairly fiscally conservative, but with regard to affordable housing, this is an area that I think that you have to have some government intervention," said Kevin O'Grady, managing partner of CRE finance firm Concord Summit. "I think this is an area that no matter what side of the aisle you're on, you really have to address it with working through government to get there because the private industry is going to continue to drive up pricing."

DeSantis appears to be gearing up for more action. incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told The Tampa Bay Times last week that she and the governor have discussed legislation to address affordable housing, including allowing the construction of apartments in commercial districts. 

“He and I have talked a lot about affordable housing issues ... and his staff and my staff have been working on a really robust bill we’re going to roll out in early session,” Passidomo told the TBT.

Many, particularly Democrats, are skeptical about DeSantis' commitment to affordable housing — last year, Republican legislators approved a plan to divert two-thirds of the state's affordable housing funds to environmental and wastewater projects. 

Others said affordable housing solutions need to come more from a local level. Cymbal cited Broward County Mayor Michael Udine as a leader who is pushing to solve the issue by allowing for more development overall.

"There is no question that the best thing that you can do to make housing more affordable is to give you permits for more housing," he said.

Lourdes Castillo, the co-founder of the Economic Club of Miami — which hosted a conversation with Citadel’s Ken Griffin and Mayor Francis Suarez last week — was doubtful that DeSantis will do much to fix the affordable housing crisis, pinning her hopes for improvement on Suarez.

“Our mayor has been brilliant positioning us as an open city ready, eager to take on any work and help,” Castillo told Bisnow. “From a national point of view our governor is more into, you know, making statements. Our local politician is more about getting things done.”