Affordable Housing

Miami-Dade teachers union may sell affordable Brickell tower


United Teachers of Dade leaders may sell an affordable housing tower built on prime Brickell Avenue land in the 1960s to provide a retirement home for educators.

As far as affordable housing goes, the Stanley Axlrod UTD Towers could be described as luxury real estate.

The faded pink 1960s-era apartment building, located on Biscayne Bay amid sleek high-rises, provides low-income and disabled seniors the kind of Brickell Avenue waterfront living reserved these days for tenants who can afford $2,500-and up monthly rents.

But for how long?.

The landlord, a not-for-profit created and managed by the United Teachers of Dade, wants to sell the tower, which sits on land valued by the county property appraiser at about $10.6 million. And a deal, according to union President Karen Aronowitz, has never been closer.

“Since I have come into office, it’s something we’ve been exploring,” said Aronowitz, who has led the union since 2004. “It’s an old building, and we want to make sure we do what’s in the best interest not only for the tenants of the building but for us as an organization, as well.”

The union had the tower built in 1967 as a retirement home for educators. But after almost half a century, UTD leaders say retired teachers make too much money to comply with federal income caps on the building’s 200-plus units, leaving the union with a building and a responsibility it doesn’t want.

The solution, Aronowitz said: Sell the tower and funnel any profits into a fund that furthers teachers’ professional development, called the UTD Teaching Excellence Foundation.

“The market’s gone up and down,” she said. “We’re making our decisions based on the best offer and information we have at the time.”

Negotiations with an unnamed buyer continue. Aronowitz said a letter of intent is in hand but no contract has been inked and a sale is not guaranteed.

What that means for the building’s tenants, who by law must be 62 and older and meet federal income limits, is unclear.

Tenants of the UTD Towers do not receive federal subsidies. But because the tower was financed on a U.S. Housing and Urban Development mortgage and the beneficiary of a HUD loan to pay for sprinklers, rents and any sale of the property remain subject to federal approval, said agency spokeswoman Gloria Shanahan.

“At this particular time, even if they change ownership, they have a use agreement and that would restrict the property to be occupied by elderly families with low and moderate income up until 2019,” Shanahan said.

But with HUD consent, the buyer, which can be a “for-profit limited partnership,” can pay off the mortgage early and without penalty subject to HUD approval, Shanahan said.

And once federal rent protections and regulations expire, the tower becomes an obvious candidate for redevelopment in a neighborhood where new projects are selling in excess of $400 a square foot.

“Obviously anything in Brickell is going to be a hot commodity,” said Denise Sicuso, managing broker of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell’s Brickell office. “Inventory in general in Brickell is very, very low.”

Shanahan said HUD has not been contacted about any pending sale.

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