As the land at 5978 SW 64 St. sits idle, affordable housing is disappearing rapidly in South Miami — particularly in the Marshall Williamson/CRA neighborhood, where the construction of what has turned out to be a decade-long Madison Square development project has yet to begin.
The project, which was conceived by the city and Community Redevelopment Agency in an effort to bring in jobs and provide affordable housing, has seen various detours and delays largely associated with zoning disagreement. It was originally planned as a 40-unit property.
The disagreement within the city commission and citizens centered around the height and density of the project spanning between two and four stories, according to Mayor Philip Stoddard.
“When it came time to amend the zoning and land use maps it there was a fight, because the planning consultant at the time (Joseph Corradino) recommended the city go ahead and provide a use density of 60 units per acre,” Stoddard said. “And residents of the city sort of bifurcated. Half the people came to the meeting and said you should do it. The other half said we haven’t seen a plan yet that requires 60 units per acre and that seems like a lot. How about you show us the plan for the site and if it needs 60 units per acre, we will consider 60. If it needs less, we will consider that number. So the commission voted down the 60 and didn’t really do anything with it.”
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But as the pressure to find affordable housing has increased, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation has established a 75-unit minimum density requirement for a 9 percent tax credit subsidy.
“Affordable housing is our No. 2 priority in the community, only behind jobs,” said Pastor Rodney James, who was recently sworn in as South Miami’s police chaplain. “There is a desperate need in the CRA community for decent affordable housing.”
“There is some housing there and it continues to rise, the rents on those houses, the little bit of rental property that we have there continues to rise and the quality of the homes are not getting any better. There is a desperate cry from that community, which has lost residents.”
Green Mills LLC won the request for proposal (RFP) bidding process to develop the project.
Green Mills’ website bills the project as “a new construction mixed-use development located in Miami” that will “contain 43 affordable townhomes for Miami’s residents and approximately 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail for local businesses.”
[Green Mills] started working on this and put in their bid, but the problem is that we don’t have the zoning or land use categories to go up to the number of units that is now required by the tax credit rules,” Stoddard said. “[The award process] had been based on merit and then they changed it to a lottery.”
“After so many applications, the Florida Housing Corp. said ‘Let’s change the number of units required.’ So they said a minimum of 75 units. How are we going to do that? The only way we are going to get 75 units is to increase the allowable density and probably the size of the project. … Either include more lands or go higher on the existing lands. That’s kind of where we are right now.”
Another application opening is set for November, but the rules remain the same. At its July 13 meeting, the CRA looked at drawings of the project.
“[The drawings] should have been done seven years ago but here we are,” Stoddard said. “We looked at the drawings and said, you know we don’t need 60 units per acre but we do need about 45. That density allowance can make that happen, that is a discussion that should have happened about seven years ago.”
Stoddard said that the previously agreed upon three stories for the project could go to four stories in order to incorporate more green space, but some portions of the project would be reduced to two stories to accommodate neighbors of the property.
James says that valued residents are leaving the area as the project stalls.
“Over the last 10 years we have lost more than 100 units of housing in that community,” James said. “It’s a desperate need if we want to keep that community viable in that area. … It’s a really big dilemma in our community.”
James also said that because the project is mixed-use and mixed-income, in an effort to halt the creation of “another area of impoverished people together.” James said he has spoken to several vendors, including Starbucks, who are interested in incorporating stores into the property.
“What you will notice when you come in our community is that the housing that has been lost in development,” James said. “When they build a housing development, they out-price the residents of that community.”
James said the median income in the CRA community is about $12,000. Miami-Dade County has a median income of $49,900 according to its website.
Stoddard did his own research into affordable housing needs in the area.
“South Miami, like every place has gone way up,” Stoddard said. “We have about 2,000 families right now in South Miami that are paying greater than 30 percent of their income for housing. Under the HUD guidelines, housing is considered unaffordable or an excess burden if it is more than 30 percent of your gross income. … If a lot of people are paying quite a lot more than 30 percent you have a shortage of affordable housing. The number has been growing … in the United States, Florida, Miami-Dade County, and in South Miami. We like everybody else ought to be looking for ways to get people into the houses that they can afford.”
The city’s current comprehensive plan has a limit of 24 residential units per acre.
“When this project first came up, we didn’t have people on the city commission who were willing to make the investment in their community,” James said. “Some of the commissioners saw it as a handout to the community. Madison Square is not a handout. It’s a hand up. Any community that is trying to continue to grow and be viable and stable, needs infrastructure. It is the job of the city or municipality to provide that infrastructure and housing is a major piece of infrastructure.”
“My personal belief is that there are some in the community … who have the idea that they would rather see that community further gentrified so that it can be used for other development, other than preserving the historic African American community there.”
James is the pastor of the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church of South Miami and serves as the president of the South Miami, Concerned Clergy & Citizens Coalition.
“There literally would not be a South Miami without the Marshall Williamson or CRA community,” James said. “That was the founding of the first stable community in this area. You have people who are on the commission and in the community who are opposed to it because they raised the density issue, … that it’s being overdeveloped. But if you lost 100 units in just 10 years, then what is the density issue? If you lost density, then you are not creating more density. You are just simply replacing it.”