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Miami Beach Considers Turning Parking Garages Into Affordable Housing to Ease Rent Crunch

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Trying to find parking in Miami Beach is not a task for the faint of heart. Between circling the gridlocked, chaotic streets and paying the exorbitant rates, it’s a godforsaken place to even take your car.

But city officials think all that might be behind us one day. In fact, they believe driverless cars and public transit could mean that one day, parking garages could alleviate another persistent South Beach headache: the lack of affordable housing.

The city is discussing requiring that future garages be built so they might be converted into workforce housing in case parking demand declines.

“Obviously, with the innovation of driverless cars and greater use of Uber, it’s a real possibility that our community faces,” Office of Housing and Community Services Director Maria Ruiz said during a recent meeting. She called the concept "very fast-forward thinking" and “very brilliant innovation.”

The city’s request for proposals for the Collins Park parking garage, which will replace a pricey Zaha Hadid plan that was axed, says it will be designed to accommodate a conversion to housing or other uses.

Miami Beach isn’t the only city planning a new life for parking garages in a less car-heavy future. Designs for a tower in Seattle call for a parking area designed to one day transform into offices and apartments.

In Miami Beach, officials see the idea as a creative way to address the growing lack of affordable housing. Though the city’s economy is built around hotels, restaurants, and nightlife, it’s become increasingly difficult for service workers to find places to live.

Last year’s sale of 15 aging, working-class apartment buildings around Flamingo Park didn’t help: The hundreds of more affordable units in those buildings will be gutted and redone as more expensive condos.

Rent has also been rising steadily. Today the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city ranges from $1,500 to $2,300.

“We’re a very beautiful city where people want to live,” Ruiz said. “There’s no secret about that.”

In fact, recently released city stats show that 51 percent of households in Miami Beach spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, with 20 percent paying 30 to 49.9 percent and 25 percent paying 50 percent or more.

Add up all of those trends, and there's little doubt about the pressing need for affordable and workforce housing in Miami Beach for the city's teachers, municipal workers, first responders, and service industry workers.

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.

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