Innovative solution to homelessness: taxpayer funded stadiums in Florida have to host homeless

It sounds like this idea has a long way to go in the Florida legislature but it is an innovative attempt to deal with homelessness: insist that owners of taxpayer funded stadiums host homeless residents.

As reported by the Miami Herald, state legislators have unearthed an obscure law that has not been enforced since it was adopted in 1988. It states that any ballpark or stadium that receives taxpayer money shall serve as a homeless shelter on the dates that it is not in use.

Now, a new bill would punish owners of teams who play in publicly-funded stadiums if they don’t provide a haven for the homeless. Affected ballparks would include the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark in Miami’s Little Havana, the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and several spring training facilities. It also includes the homes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Miami Heat, Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida Panthers.

The newspaper estimates that owners might have to return $30 million in benefits that were already bestowed if the bill passes and they can’t prove they were running homeless shelters (to the newspaper’s knowledge, no teams have been).

I think the overriding concern here based on one thing: governments (and others) are lacking money. This could be an innovative solution: use an existing structure that often sits empty which then cuts costs for building/renting other homeless shelters. Lawmakers have some leverage here because they helped secure funding for these stadiums. A growing body of research suggest that these taxpayer funded stadiums are not boons to the local community. Research suggests that taxpayer funded stadiums don’t help out communities as much as help line the pockets of owners. In other words, communities don’t get the money back that they put into stadiums in the form of taxes and team owners reap the benefits. Also, when teams leave, certain businesses may suffer but eventually residents spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere in the city so the city doesn’t lose out in the long run. Why shouldn’t stadium owners have to give back a little bit more?

I wouldn’t be surprised if more cities try to pursue similar ideas that attach more strings to accessing public funding.

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