Miami to debate FIU affordable housing plan

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Joe Carollo (Credit: Getty Images)

Joe Carollo (Credit: Getty Images)

Miami is among the least affordable cities in the U.S., and needs to build or rehab 32,000 residential units over the next 10 years to help alleviate its affordability crisis, according to a new report from Florida International University.

City of Miami commissioners will convene a meeting to focus on recommendations from FIU’s Affordable Housing Master Plan, as well as other options at a special meeting later this month.

Commissioner Joe Carollo asked for the meeting, on Jan. 31, during Thursday’s Miami City Commission meeting. Carollo didn’t think it was proper to merely “accept” the 82-page report prepared by FIU’s Metropolitan Center, and felt a standalone meeting was needed to discuss it as well as other ideas.

“This is too important to just vote for it without getting to the meat of it,” Carollo said. “There are many parts that are fine, others need to be looked at.”

The report points out that Miami is among the least affordable places to live in the United States due to rising rents and low wages. “Fifty-seven percent of its households (94,638) pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs and more than 32.3 percent (39,112) of renter households pay in excess of 50 percent of their income on rent,” the FIU report stated. “Housing affordability has reached crisis levels in Miami, threatening its own economy, businesses and neighborhoods.”

To make things worse, the report points out that the city loses 1,286 affordable residential units a year due to “rising market price pressure.” The FIU report defines affordable as homes priced under $100,000 and rents below $800 a month, which are rates that are attainable to households making between $27,000 and $33,999 a year.

To reverse this trend, the city will need to build or rehab 32,000 affordable residential units over 10 years, the FIU report states. To accomplish this, the report suggests creating a Miami Affordable Housing Finance Corp., appointed by city commissioners, that will pursue funding sources.

The report also suggests, among other things, building small affordable housing units between five and 50 units each, building residential units on top of existing retail plazas, leveraging $85 million in bond money earmarked for affordable housing with loans and other grants for $1 billion, and charging a “vacancy fee” to absentee landlords for units that are empty most of the year.

Carollo, however, didn’t think the report spent enough time talking about increasing homeownership. “I don’t think they even began to scratch the surface of ownership of housing. They’re tilted in the same train of thought of rental housing,” he said.

In December, Carollo proposed seeking $250 million in grants and loans to build new 2,500 affordable condos for Miami residents. An ordinance and task force on that idea is supposed to be formed by March.

More than 10 people spoke in favor of the FIU affordable housing plan, most of whom were part of affordable housing advocacy groups. Alana Greer said that more than 90 percent of the city of Miami’s population can’t afford to buy homes, mainly because of rising rents and loss of affordable apartments. “We’re making sure we are thinking about the displacement problem,” she told commissioners.

But Andy Parrish, a developer of low-income housing who serves on the Miami Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board, said other ideas should be entertained as well to ensure that more residents aren’t displaced by gentrification. That includes land trusts, special area plans tailored toward affordable housing, co-ops, and “soft mortgages.” “There are so many tools to give permanent solutions,” he said.

Carollo also wanted acceptance of the plan to be delayed until a new city administration is in place. Carollo is an outspoken opponent of Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, who will be resigning on Feb. 10, and Mayor Francis Suarez. “We need for the dust to settle, to see who we have as manager, zoning director, and other positions in our city,” he said.

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