There's No Affordable Housing in Miami Because Developers Block It, Study Says

Florida lawmakers have, over the past ten years, quietly siphoned $1.3 billion away from a $1.8 billion, statewide fund for affordable housing, the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau reported Friday. Asked whether this is a problem, Miami Republican state Rep. Carlos Trujillo basically flipped his hometown — which is trapped in an unprecedented affordability crisis — the bird.

"Housing is definitely a problem, but the issue is we aren’t going to just throw more affordable housing into South Florida," he said. He then passed the buck and claimed that "the reality is there’s only a 60-day legislative session. There’s only so many issues you can tackle in 60 days.”

A study released in late March by the nonprofit Urban Institute, however, lays bare just how awful Miami's rental market has become for the city's lower and middle classes. According to the think tank, affordable housing shrank significantly over the past decade, and actual governmental fixes are necessary to keep Miami from turning into a silo of oil sheiks and money launderers with no working restaurants, stores, or public utilities.

The report also says Miami's rich developers have succeeded in convincing people that affordable housing isn't really all that important to survive.

"Developers seem to have tremendous sway over the affordable housing discourse," the report says.

According to the institute, the number of "cost-burned" renters in Miami jumped in virtually every neighborhood between 2000 and 2015. Likewise, the number of apartments that cost less than $1,000 per month dropped precipitously in almost every area as well.

"Renter cost burdens have increased all over the county and city," the report says. "In 2000, 27 percent of LMI [low- and middle-income] renter households were cost-burdened (i.e., spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs). By 2015, three-quarters of LMI renter households in Miami were cost-burdened."

The change was the most dramatic in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods such as downtown, Wynwood, and Edgewater. In 2000, the area was mostly low-income and cheap to rent or own; now even middle-income people are getting priced out of the area. Before 2000, most of the homes in the area had been built before 1980. Now the majority of the rentals are new construction.

"Downtown, Edgewater, and Wynwood saw tremendous development of new housing units, with new units dominating by 2015, in contrast to a majority pre-1980 stock in 2000," the report says. "This reflects tremendous development in these areas, which is replacing older and previously affordable housing with newer and more expensive units, leaving less housing for LMI families."

The study, like many before it, also warns that Allapattah, which borders Wynwood to the west, is about to get carved up by wealthy real-estate brokers.

"The Miami arts community has extended beyond Wynwood, and land and buildings are being purchased to establish art galleries in Allapattah," the study says. "Homeowners report being approached directly by real-estate investors to purchase their homes, and area renters are concerned they may be at risk of displacement. Without prioritization from county or city leadership, Allapattah may be at risk of losing its Dominican community heritage, multigenerational LMI families, and affordable housing."

But unlike most real-estate studies, which simply list how difficult it is to live here before effectively telling residents to shove off, the Urban Institute actually floated a few very reasonable ideas to stem the city's price crisis.

For one, the report lays a heap of the blame for the city's recent woes on local developers, who remain extremely cozy with the city officials who are supposed to be regulating them.

Developers seem to have tremendous sway over the affordable housing discourse. A recent effort to create a mandatory inclusionary zoning regulation was tabled, in part because of insufficient awareness of the larger benefits to the community among developer-friendly politicians. Some stakeholders discussed a possible need for greater public awareness about why preserving and creating affordable housing for LMI households is important for the community, as well as benefits of other policy solutions, such as community land banking. To secure affordable housing and to meet developers’ needs, the county and city should enhance developer-based incentives in a manner that quality, affordable housing is created and retained. Structuring tax benefits as an annuity would encourage developers to be invested in the long-term success of the affordable housing they build. More expedient permitting approvals and fewer parking requirements for new developments would increase supply. Restructuring property taxes to help LMI homeowners deal with increasing property values and appraisals in gentrifying neighborhoods would allow more LMI families to stay in place.

Besides forcing investors to treat Miami renters like humans rather than pesky impediments to high-yielding stock portfolios, the Urban Institute also suggests that basic upgrades to public transportation would help residents priced out of homes in job-heavy areas such as Coral Gables get to work.

The report also suggested engaging community groups more often in government housing discussions and encouraging local landlords to rent out business space to home-grown shops instead of chains.

But at its core, the report suggests one obvious move: Build more affordable housing in Miami. Someone ought to tell Representative Trujillo.

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