‘Make big money’: DeSantis campaign exploits Florida’s hot real estate industry

Popack has one thing in common with a new generation of DeSantis donors, though: He’s part of Florida’s hot real estate market.

Over the past year, DeSantis, a Republican, and his politically aligned committee have raised more than $7 million from real estate developers, investors and real estate agents, making this industry one of the biggest governor’s donor groups as he prepares to run for re-election.

DeSantis’ re-election campaign, which declined to comment for this story, is both appealing to longtime real estate donors while attracting new political funds from the industry. Of his contributions, more than $2.5 million came from real estate-aligned donors who had never given political money, or hadn’t given in multiple election cycles, according to an analysis by POLITICO. The wave of political money was spurred, in part, by DeSantis’ drive to reopen Florida before other states at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, a move that has helped industry leaders improve their results. But it happened against the backdrop of an affordable housing crisis increasingly amplified by Democrats who say the spike is benefiting real estate leaders at the expense of low-income Floridians.

“The biggest reason I can think of is that the demand is so high that we’re all making a lot of money,” Pat Neal, a Florida real estate developer and longtime Republican donor, said in an interview.

Overall, DeSantis has $96 million in cash available for his re-election bid, far eclipsing the combined total of about $10 million in cash for his three Democratic opponents: Rep. charlie christAgriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Florida Senator Annette Taddeo (D-Miami).

Neal said DeSantis was a fundraising machine across the board, so much so that he had to find a bigger venue for a recent donor event he was hosting for the governor.

“I promised a small, intimate event, but we had to move it,” Neal said. “The governor is raising so much money, there’s so much interest. There were a lot of types of builders and developers, and people in agriculture who are interested in immigration issues.

But while DeSantis has raised huge sums from industries such as hospitality — which benefited from his early efforts to reopen Florida’s economy — as well as health care, insurance and finance, his biggest chunk over the past year has come from executives aligned with the real estate industry and companies that have profited from his administration’s policies.

“I think a combination of two things, we absolutely support every policy of keeping Florida open that the governor has passed,” Carlos Beruff, a Sarasota County homebuilder and a longtime Republican donor. “The second thing is that I call it the Covid phenomenon in real estate. Unfortunately, Covid has been a terrible plague for us, but in the real estate industry there has been a boom.

“Everybody in the industry just has more money to go around,” he added, explaining the increase in the number of new donors from the real estate industry to DeSantis.

Beruff said for homebuilders and others in residential real estate, the reopening of DeSantis in Florida ahead of most other states was a turning point for the industry.

“I can show you our sell rates, they went off the charts in June, July and August [of 2020]”, Beruff said. “It’s not just for me. I talk to everyone in the industry, and people want to support the guy who made this possible.

Florida Realtors, the state’s largest industry trade group, also cited the administration’s pandemic policies as a key reason for its support.

“Florida Realtors continues to support Governor DeSantis because he supports the real estate profession, the real estate industry and the stakeholders within it,” Florida Realtors CEO Margy Grant said in an interview. “When the pandemic started in 2020, he ensured that real estate was seen as an essential business and that real estate agents could continue to work at a time when housing and commercial real estate were more important than ever. “

The industry profits, and in turn increased political contributions, come at a time when housing affordability is reaching crisis levels in the state. Rental prices have increased by up to 60% in Orlando. Miami-Dade County Democratic Mayor Daniella Levine Cava declared a state of emergency for affordable housing, noting that Florida’s largest county has become “the most unaffordable place in the country.” And rents are skyrocketing in the Tampa area due, in part, to the influx of people into the area during the pandemic.

“It’s pretty clear to me that this is the main reason the governor won’t champion housing issues and why he repeated industry talking points,” State Representative Anna Eskamani said ( D-Orlando) in an interview. “It’s driven by the desire to make money, and clearly [political] contributions is a means of prohibiting real action, which would require a heavier hand.

During Florida’s recently concluded 2022 legislative session, the DeSantis and GOP majorities fully funded the state’s housing trust funds with just over $300 million. It was the highest level in years, but Democrats and housing advocates said it wasn’t enough as those funds have been plundered to the tune of $2.3 billion over the years. And much of the funding was focused on home ownership – not helping affordable housing – and no substantive affordable housing legislation was passed during the two-month legislative period.

“It’s so dishonest to say you care about Floridians when they [Republican leaders] actively choose profits over prosperity,” Eskamani said.

Democrats are increasingly considering the issue of affordable housing ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Fried’s gubernatorial campaign has presented its affordable housing proposal, including the state of emergency earlier this week and Crist said if elected he would appoint a “housing czar”.

DeSantis did not outline a specific plan to tackle Florida’s affordable housing crisis, but blamed the problem on President Joe Biden’s administration, which is struggling to contain rising inflation.

“So if you’re going to build an apartment complex, maybe it would be multi-family, the cost of that has now gone up 30%,” DeSantis said in February. “And so it’s going to cost more for people.”

DeSantis also criticized the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic eviction moratorium, which was designed to keep struggling tenants in their homes during the height of the pandemic. It was instituted under former President Donald Trump and ended by the U.S. Supreme Court in August 2021 in a move Biden called “disappointing.”

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