Critical need for workforce housing


In a speech on Oct. 28, 1943, Winston Churchill argued for the rebuilding of the House of Commons after it was severely damaged by German bombers in the last major attack of the Battle of Britain. Churchill said that the House of Commons should be rebuilt based upon its historic configuration and size, arguing that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Inherent in his argument is the recognition that governmental decisions and the resulting policies profoundly shape and affect the quality of life for each of our citizens.

The promotion and enhancement of our local economy historically has been one of the primary goals of government. In this regard, our government must not only do its best to encourage a business-friendly environment to attract and keep businesses in Miami-Dade County, it also must address two issues that are often raised by companies that support our local economy and employ residents: the availability of a quality public education system to provide an educated work force and to educate the children of their employees; and the availability of affordable housing for employees.

The Miami-Dade County School Board has made significant progress in providing a quality public education system. However, our county is falling behind on the availability of affordable housing.

In 2007, the Florida Legislature passed a legislative mandate calling for counties such as Miami-Dade to adopt a plan for affordable workforce housing by July 1, 2008, which at a minimum would identify sites suitable for workforce housing. Miami-Dade County adopted a Workforce Housing Plan on March 24, 2008.

At that time, Miami-Dade ranked at the top of all counties nationwide as having the highest percentage of homeowners considered severely “cost burdened.” Cost burdened is defined as households that pay 30 percent or more of their income toward housing. Households that are severely burdened pay 5 percent or more of their income on housing costs. Florida defines workforce housing is as affordable to individuals or families whose total household income is at or below 140 percent of the area median income.

On April 19, the Miami Herald published an article reporting that Miami is one of the most expensive cities for renters, where rent on average consumes 43 percent of the typical household income. Workforce housing is not accessible to some of the often-forgotten people who play an important role in our community — schoolteachers, nurses, government workers, police officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers. They often are forced to commute long distances, and in some instances, live in contiguous counties.

Demographic surveys suggest that the current need in Miami-Dade County for workforce-housing units is in excess of 330,000 apartment units. Further, the local real-estate market predominantly supports the construction of expensive units, therefore the crisis caused by the lack of workforce housing is getting worse.

To stem the tide, Miami-Dade County is considering the development of workforce housing in a public-private partnership, which will help address its goals as described in the Workforce Housing Plan. This will reduce the burden on Miami-Dade County to create workforce housing. Public-private workforce housing developments are often structured on ground leasehold estates for underutilized properties, such as surface parking lots owned by the government, where the existing use can be preserved and the workforce housing development built above, or where an older building requires adaptive redevelopment in order to satisfy current safety and zoning requirements.

The costs of construction, financing and redevelopment of workforce housing developments are borne by the ground-lease tenant, a not-for-profit entity, at no cost or expense to the government. At the end of the lease, title to the apartment development reverts to the government, which could continue to lease the apartment development as workforce housing, generating another source of income for the government.

Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, the political pamphlet that advocated for America’s independence from Great Britain, wrote that, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” We also have it within our power to improve the quality of our lives in Miami-Dade County with the implementation of this public-private workforce housing policy. It will help promote the expansion of our local economy by addressing employers’ concerns regarding affordable housing, meet the needs of our citizens by providing critically needed workforce housing and create new sources of income for local government.

Thomas Eagan is a partner with Squire Sanders (U.S.) LLP and is a director of the Workforce Housing Foundation, Inc.

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