Five Awful Ideas Pitched to Fix Miami's Affordable-Housing Crisis

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The nation's affordable-housing woes are, at their root, a problem of allocating resources. The richest nation in the history of the world absolutely has enough supplies and space to ensure that every person or family has a usable, affordable home. But that's not the world we live in: Instead, poor people in metro areas such as Miami-Dade are forced to commute hours each day to work, while condos in the center of town — near all of the jobs — sit empty because they're owned by Kyrgyzstani gold-mine magnates who live here only two weekends out of the year.

Instead of, say, taxing the hell out of people like this (which Vancouver is now doing), forcing developers to build affordable units in new projects (which the developer-tied Miami-Dade Commission shot down in 2016), local officials have come up with a host of strange "fixes" for the problem that are both useless and cumbersome. The state hasn't helped either. Legislators have looted more than $1 billion from Florida's affordable-housing fund over the past decade and refuse to raise the minimum wage to a livable level.

Still, some pretty dumb solutions have been floated in Miami. Here's a rundown:

1. Letting people live in/on top of parking garages. Do you enjoy the cold, boxy, windowless stylings of a concrete parking garage? Do you want to feel like you live in the island prison from Face/Off? Miami Beach might finally let you live out your dreams, depending upon whether the city builds new housing on top of municipal parking garages or just convert the old concrete blocks themselves into storage for humans:

Converting city-owned surface parking lots into garages with workforce housing on top might be one solution, officials say.

They’ve tossed around other trendy ideas. Commissioner Ricky Arriola suggested microhousing, shared living spaces, and dorm-style living during a committee meeting last year.

“Millennials want that… I think we should be exploring all of that,” he said.

As for living in parking garages, some South Beach residents have already embraced the trend. Miami Beach's 1111 Lincoln Road — hailed by some critics as the most beautiful parking garage in the world — features four residences. But they're hardly affordable: They started at more than $1 million apiece.

2. Building homes out of shipping containers. Feeling like a prisoner isn't your vibe? OK, then how about being stored in a shipping container that was previously used to transport frozen ham?

The wiring in Berlinda Faye Dixon's Overtown apartment building was all wrong, but the landlord refused to fix it. And when the complex eventually caught fire, he refused to repair the damage too. She lived in a smoked-out building for weeks before she was eventually able to obtain affordable housing.

Around 150 families are in similar situations in Miami. Unable to afford higher rent, they live in buildings wallowing in disrepair. The city is trying to help by taking legal action against landlords, but in the meantime, the residents are stuck.

"People are getting sick, getting hurt, breathing in fumes from mold-encrusted A/C units, drinking soiled water," says Adrian Madriz, one of the founders of SMASH (Struggle for Miami's Affordable & Sustainable Housing), which incorporated this year. "When it rains, water will cascade into bedrooms. There are rats and roaches in every one of them. I would not feel comfortable sleeping in one of those units for five minutes, let alone two years."

But Madriz thinks he has an innovative solution: shipping containers. A proposal created by his nonprofit — and first suggested by Dixon, the board chair — would turn shipping containers into temporary homes for people living in Miami's slums. They'd pay minimal rent ($250 to $600 per month) to live there until the legal process was complete and their old apartment building was renovated.

3. Cramming the poor into tiny homes.
They're not smaller than trailers, you fools! They're cool! There's a whole TV show about white hipster idiots who love these things! Miami-Dade County has proposed exploring tiny homes as an option:

With Miami-Dade rents skyrocketing, the county has repeatedly acknowledged the area's affordable-housing problem.

But so far, most attempts to solve the crisis have been futile. The county's affordable-housing trust, which was supposed to fund construction of new affordable units, has lay dormant for ten years. In 2016, when Commissioner Barbara Jordan tried to mandate that developers include affordable units next to luxury condos, the industry threw a fit and made sure the ordinance failed. Even existing housing options aren't safe: The Miami Herald reported last week that Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been in talks about tearing down (and potentially renovating) a public-housing complex next to David Beckham's new soccer stadium in Overtown.

But county commissioners have come to a consensus on one possible solution: tiny houses. This past Tuesday, the commission unanimously directed the mayor's office to study the possibility of changing zoning laws to allow developers to build houses measuring less than 300 square feet. The resolution, sponsored by Jordan (who, to her credit, has unsuccessfully pitched other solutions over the years), says tiny homes could help alleviate the housing shortage.

"Micro houses would encourage the efficient use of land by accommodating greater population density in a smaller area," the resolution reads.

4. Providing dorm rooms! Remember Topher, the long-haired bass player you were forced to room with in college who tripped molly and blasted Skrillex Tuesday nights with his friends who all smelled like malt liquor? You miss them, right? Moishe Mana thinks you do, according to the Miami Herald:

He’s the first in Miami to formally propose putting up a building consisting entirely of what’s been dubbed “micro-units” — compact, hyper-efficient and affordable apartments meant for young singles who want to live in dense urban neighborhoods and get around primarily on foot and public transit. The plan, which Mana’s team says fully conforms with downtown zoning rules, will have its first and likely only public review before the city’s Urban Design Review Board on Monday

The blueprint calls for 328 apartments starting at 400 square feet, the minimum allowed by city code. The penthouse units top out at a relatively generous 600 square feet, but most will be 500 square feet and under, said the project’s architect, Bernard Zyscovich.

The apartments would be equipped with built-in furnishings, including beds and tables, that tilt, fold or slide into walls and cabinets, Zyscovich said. And the building, at 200 North Miami Ave., would be flush with amenities, including built-in superfast WiFi and fully equipped common kitchens and dining rooms for when residents want to entertain.

5. Asking developers to lose money on affordable housing out of the kindness of their hearts. Also not working:

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.

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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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