I have the good fortune to serve as a member of the Beacon Council’s New Leaders Task Force. The group consists of a few dozen burgeoning community and business leaders tasked with trying to stem the local “brain drain” of young professionals that seek higher paying positions elsewhere.
The loss of high-paying jobs and talented individuals poses long-term economic challenges to our community. But the successful pursuit of quality jobs in the science, technology, and health care sectors, among other fields with promising future growth, is only part of the challenge — the supply side, in fact. What must also be considered is the demand side of the challenge — the fact that we must find ways to reduce the high costs of living in South Florida that are driving many professionals to seek positions elsewhere.
The importance of the relationship between median incomes, housing costs, and transportation costs on local prosperity is the subject of the recently-released Losing Ground: The Struggle of Moderate-Income Households to Afford the Rising Costs of Housing and Transportation, a joint report of the Center for Housing Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The report analyzes the cost of living in the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the country. It provides a comprehensive view of housing affordability.
This covers the costs of daily travel to the traditional components of housing costs to yield a combined cost that reflects the full cost associated with selecting one housing unit (and its location) over another. The findings are troubling: During the last decade, housing and transportation costs outpaced income growth in each of the 25 major metro areas.
Moderate-income families (those earning between 50 percent and 100 percent of the area’s median income, or, in our case, $25,000 and $51,000) bear major economic challenges in each metro area; on average, moderate-income households spend 59 percent of their income on housing and transportation costs, leaving little money for groceries and other essentials. For those of us who love Miami, however, the report has some particularly troubling news — our combination of relatively low incomes, when coupled with our relatively high housing and transportation costs, means that many households spend upwards of 70 percent of their incomes on housing and transportation costs, making us the least affordable of the 25 major metro areas.
That does not bode well for young professionals, either, since many of them face tough job prospects, modest starting salaries, and thousands of dollars of student debt. And the challenge may be self-perpetuating: companies may find it easier to recruit young talent by locating or relocating to more affordable regions.
Although the present seems bleak, the future need not be. The report goes on to outline a series of important recommendations. These include preserving, renovating, and creating homes near job centers, public transit stations, and other places where transportation costs are low; implementing regulatory reforms that reduce the cost of creating new housing in transit-accessible locations; and improving transit service, sidewalks, and bike paths in compact areas where housing prices are already affordable.
To these general recommendations I would add two others: further investing in our aged and sometimes inadequate local infrastructure, so as to facilitate the development and redevelopment of our infill, transit-accessible neighborhoods located near jobs.
And, more importantly, when making policy decisions, our local elected officials should consider how a policy change affects affordability. Does it make the lives of working families and young professionals easier and more affordable, or less affordable and more economically burdensome? The answer to this question, in particular, has deep implications for the prosperity of our hometown.
Ralph Rosado is executive director of the South Florida Community Development Coalition, a member organization tasked with improving housing affordability and economic prospects throughout Miami-Dade.