Homeownership builds strong communities



As highlighted in Martha Brannigan’s recent series, Miami’s luxury home and condo market is once again booming and attracting affluent clients from all corners of the world. Although this is great news for our local economy, the boom has not trickled down to some of the more underserved corners of Miami-Dade. In fact, the gap between income and affordability continues to expand, making it practically impossible for families on the lower end of the economic spectrum to ever achieve home ownership.

But take a look at the success rate of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami in exactly these areas for the clearest way to address that gap going forward. Since 2010, Habitat has put an additional 163 families in their own homes in Liberty City, bringing the total to close to 400, a hugely ambitious undertaking. It was accomplished through a variety of public and private partnerships with various sectors of the community — from Miami-Dade’s infill program to turning abandoned lots into tax-paying properties, to the generous support of the corporate community, foundations, houses of worship and individuals.

More than 8,000 volunteers from all walks of life have dedicated their time to help build homes for others. Even better, those 163 families enthusiastically embraced the Habitat model, which requires them to work no less than 300 hours of sweat equity, helping build their homes as well as those of their future neighbors. After this and other requirements, they purchased their homes with a zero-percent mortgage from Habitat. These homes bring Habitat’s totals in Liberty City to well more than 300, and nearly 1,000homes countywide.

Armed with land, volunteers, partner families and a proven track record, Habitat is only limited in its ability to serve more families by a shortage of resources. This is the big opportunity we need to address in Miami-Dade.

In the past few years, public dollars set aside for affordable housing, whether from the surtax on commercial real estate or funds from the General Obligation Bond, have overwhelmingly favored for-profit rental developers, in the case of the GOB, almost exclusively.

Yet in many instances, the per-unit cost of those rental projects has surpassed $200,000 in subsidies from local government alone (by no means the only public dollars received), often without a requirement of matching those funds with private dollars.

Contrast that with the costs of home-ownership. In Habitat’s Liberty City project, the entire cost of each home is $130,000 per unit, with less than half of that figure covered by government support.

While there will always be a need for rentals, the success of nonprofit builders like Habitat in places like Liberty City has shown that there is a great need in our community for home-ownership opportunities.

Ownership projects are often not only less expensive — they are a proven tool in true community development. People who own their home take more pride in where they live, they engage more in their community and they have a long-lasting effect on the betterment of neighborhoods. The benefits are too many to list but all point to the fact that an investment in home-ownership has a far better return on investment than more rental units.

As the home-ownership gap widens in Miami-Dade, it is imperative that our community not turn a blind eye to the need of those in the lower rungs of income. The mechanisms are in place to generate the resources but an effort must be made to find a better balance between ownership and rental as it relates to public monies. In doing so, all of Miami-Dade’s communities will benefit from the economic rebound we currently enjoy.

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