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Priced out of Paradise: City in Transition
Miami-Dade is the most expensive metro in the U.S. for renters and one of the costliest for home buyers. This series explains why that’s so and what it means for the region and its residents. Our interactive tool helps renters and buyers match their budgets to affordable neighborhoods. Future stories will explore solutions to South Florida’s housing crisis.
After graduating from Florida State University in 2012, Lasonya Rogers was uncertain whether to move back to her home town of Miami. Median household income in Miami-Dade had not increased since Rogers started college, and it would remain stagnant for years to come.
“I knew the job market wasn’t going to pay me enough to live,” said Rogers, now 29 years old.
She came back — but moved in with her mother, a home health aide, as a temporary situation while she got her master’s in public administration at Florida International University. Five years out of school, she and her two children are still there — even though she earns above the county median household income of $50,000 at her job with the city of Homestead. Despite years of searching, Rogers hasn’t able to find a home that would allow her to spend less than 30 percent of her income on a mortgage — the benchmark ratio for affordability.
“I grew up with a single mom and she worked hard to make sure we have enough,” Rogers said. “I want my kids to have a safety net. If that means sacrificing now, then I will do it.”
Rogers isn’t alone. A recent survey by LendingTree found that one in four Miamians aged 25 to 40 live with their parents.
Living with family is just one of the common strategies for coping with Miami’s high cost of housing, where rising rents and house prices outstrip slow-growing wages. Some locals are spending hours on buses or in the car commuting to areas where homes are more affordable than the neighborhoods where they work. Some are taking on debt, crowding into tight quarters, delaying families and sharing living space with strangers. Others have left Miami-Dade county all together.
Those who have stayed to be close to family or continue working at a dependable job are left to cope as best they can.
Jackie Miranda, 38, and her 17-year-old son lived with Miranda’s father in North Miami Beach. Miranda searched for an apartment near her son’s school near Marlins Park for months, but finding even a decent one bedroom renting for less than $900 a month has been difficult. Miranda said she makes $38,000 working full time for Norwegian Cruise Line’s accounting department, well below Miami-Dade’s median household income.
After a few weeks of searching Miranda was able to find a one bedroom downtown for $875, about a 30 minute walk from her son’s school. She and her son are sharing a room. They plan to move out of Miami-Dade altogether when he graduates in search of more affordable housing.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” she said. “You want to be able to provide a safe environment for your child and yourself and you can’t because you can’t afford it. I work for a big corporation, and I can’t afford an apartment.”
Here are some other stories about how locals are coping:
Alejandro Gaos, 29, moved from Venezuela to Miami in 2015 and landed in a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Dadeland. Since then, he’s seen the area — surrounded by the Metrorail, U.S. 1 and Palmetto — develop around him. There’s a Whole Foods, Publix and new restaurants.
But what’s most attractive about the area to Gaos is the transit.
To get to his office in downtown Miami, Gaos, a financial planner, uses the Metrorail. It takes him between 20 to 30 minutes door to door, which is quicker — and cheaper — than driving. But, he said, he can’t ditch his car altogether. Sometimes work takes him to areas of South Florida where the limited Metrorail doesn’t go.
“It depends on the day,” he said. “I would love to [get rid of my car], but with the traveling to Fort Myers and back I can’t.”
Even with the occasional Metrorail commute, living near the public transit line comes at a steep price. At $2,150 per month, Gaos is spending around 40 percent of his annual income on rent, he said. He considers the area overpriced for what it is.
“It’s not Brickell yet and they want Brickell prices,” he said. “It’s not as fancy as what they want to charge.”
Still, Gaos wants to stay. When his lease is up next February, he plans to try to look for a place to buy nearby.
“The area is not very cosmopolitan, very fancy. But it’s way better, it’s more simple,” he said. “During rush hour I can get in and out of the area really quickly. I don’t have to go very far.”
The affordable housing crisis has pushed some up to Broward county.
A survey conducted between 2011 and 2015 by the U.S. Census showed that 136,000 people commuted from Broward to Miami-Dade. More than 400 City of Miami employees, representing 10 percent of the total workforce, lived outside Miami-Dade county in 2019.
Jennifer Rodriguez, 43, and her husband rented their one bedroom, $850 per month apartment in The Roads for as long as they could. But in 2009, when Rodriguez was pregnant with their second child and gained custody of her nephew, they started looking for homes. The cheapest option they could find was at the very top of their budget — a three bedroom, two bath home in Shenandoah for $270,000.
When her realtor told her to look in Broward, Rodriguez said she had reservations. She was raised in Miami and enjoyed living close to her family.
The first house she saw was off Hallendale Beach Boulevard, the first exit over the county line, for $105,000. She purchased the home immediately and has lived there ever since.
While she misses the easy access to Cuban food and being close to her parents, she doesn’t think she will consider moving back to Miami-Dade. She works in Brickell and says the commute in the express lane isn’t that bad — 35 minutes door to door.
“It’s a difficult decision. We hesitated a lot,” she said. “The housing goes up but not your salary. So how do I stay? How do I stay?”
Hanging onto home
Eugenie Daseme, 76, migrated to the United States from Haiti 43 years ago. She said she worked in the laundry room at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach, and earned enough to make the down payment on a $50,000 two-bedroom home in Little Haiti in 2000. At the time, the median home value in her Zip Code was just over $145,000, and median monthly rent was $750, according to the U.S. Census.
Since then, the median home value in her neighborhood has doubled. Neighbors are renting out rooms for $1,500; an art gallery just opened down the block. She and her husband have only his small pension, social security and food stamps for support. Two adult children live at home.
She frequently gets calls from would-be buyers. But with prices rising around them, Daseme and her family would have no place to go.
In 2018, no longer able to make ends meet, Daseme turned to a reverse mortgage company for help after hearing an ad on the TV.
“It said, once you are 62 years-old, you can apply, you won’t have any problems,” she said, recalling the ad. “They said you wouldn’t have to pay anything; they will try to help you.”
The money, however, wasn’t enough to help finance the next catastrophe. Two months before Hurricane Irma, her roof started to leak, flooding the house whenever it rained. On Haitian radio she heard about a loan program called PACE that would allow her to pay back the price of the roof repair — $21,000 — over 20 years. She was shocked to find out that the loan had ballooned to $50,000 with interest and fees. Lenders of PACE loans, which allow investment companies to collect loans for green home improvement projects through Miami-Dade property taxes, has been sued for lending to people who don’t have the ability to pay back the loans.
Last year Daseme saw her property tax bill spike from $1,060 to $3,500. She now owes lenders more than the $215,000 that the house is worth, according to the county property appraiser.
“People see you living in a house and they say you are rich. But they have no idea what you do to stay in it,” she said.
Kids on hold
Alex Fernandez-Lovo and his wife did everything right.
“We grew up with the notion that you’re supposed to go to school, pick a profession and grow a network,” said Fernandez-Lovo, 32. “We did all that. We got our master’s degrees. We even lived with my parents for a year to save money while I was studying for the bar.”
Now the couple, who have been married for three years, want to start a family. But with their combined incomes of $80,000 — he works as a paralegal and his wife is a schoolteacher — they can’t afford anything bigger than the one-bedroom, 800 square-foot apartment in Coral Gables they’re renting for $1,500 per month.
“The housing prices in Miami are astronomical, and we also have $350,000 in student loan debt,” he said. “I would love to live in South Miami, where I grew up, and have my son or daughter attend Columbus or Lourdes. We don’t want to leave Miami. But we feel like the city doesn’t want us. My 10-year college reunion is coming up, and I feel like I just graduated from college. The only one of our friends who has a nice home with a white picket fence moved away and lives in Alabama.”
Even though the couple earns about $25,000 more than Miami-Dade’s area median income of $54,900 (the 2019 figure calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), their plight illustrates the problem faced by a skyrocketing number of South Florida college-educated professionals.
Jorge Vazquez, 35, grew up in Westchester and was able to live in an apartment his parents owned in Brickell after he graduated from college, which allowed him to save while he started his career.
In 2017, he bought a two-bedroom house with his husband in Shenandoah for $375,000. Though they both make six-figure salaries — between his job at a consulting firm and his husband’s work in public relations — saving enough to afford adoption has been a challenge.
“We’ve had to delay adopting,” he said. At 35, he expected he would already have started a family by now. “We don’t want to have a teenager in our 60s.”
Arturo Pena, 32, and his girlfriend have also put off kids. In December they moved into a one bedroom, $2,200 Brickell apartment. They have a household income of around $100,000, but still have to make tough choices to afford rent.
“I had to decide if I want to be able to live comfortably, I can’t have a kid now,” he said. “I am 32 years old; it’s getting to be later in life. But I’m not in a position to bring a kid into the world and struggle.”
Pena and his girlfriend visited Denver recently and are considering moving there. In Denver median household income is $60,000, compared to about $50,000 in Miami-Dade.
“People seemed happier there than they are here,” he said. “Everyone is living so tight down here, [because] the cost of living is so high.”
Living with strangers
Carlos Gordian, 27, moved to Miami from South Carolina in 2018 for a job as an engineer in the new product development department of Cordis Corporation, a medical device company in Miami Lakes.
Gordian roomed with his cousin on South Beach while he figured out where in Miami-Dade he wanted to live. Although he says he intends to buy his own place, he decided to spend a year renting to get a feel for the city, and settled on downtown Miami.
“I was ideally looking for a two bedroom, but I couldn’t find anything I could afford,” Gordian said.
Then Gordian spotted an ad on Instagram for X Miami, a 31-story apartment building in the thick of the downtown corridor that offered a new kind of rental scheme: Communal living.
X Miami was developed by Property Markets Group, which owns and operates two similar buildings in Chicago and is completing construction on more towers in Fort Lauderdale, Denver, Oakland and Orlando. The building is comprised of 464 apartments, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, with rents ranging from $1,600 to $3,200. But 80 of the apartments are designated as “co-living units,” allowing tenants to rent by bedroom (with a private bathroom) inside a larger, fully-furnished apartment at a lower cost.
The building has a total of 638 beds available to rent, and its amenities are designed to emphasize social interaction, such as yoga classes, an open-air pool deck, a gym, a movie theater, a coffee shop, a cocktail bar and a restaurant. Rent-by-bedroom tenants are pre-screened so they can be paired with roommates with similar interests. The leases allow tenants to request a new bedroom in a different unit if their roommate turns out to be a bad match.
Gordian, who enjoys western and northern views from his eighth-floor wraparound balcony, said the communal living concept allows him to live in a kind of luxurious apartment he’d never be able to afford on his own, while still putting a little money away each month.
“I pay $1,500 a month in a three-bedroom unit, which includes parking, utilities, cable and Wi-Fi,” Gordian said. “I work in Miami Lakes, so I’m going against traffic in the morning and my commute is 20-25 minutes max. And I save money on the weekends, because I’m so close to South Beach, Wynwood and Brickell, which is where I typically go to hang out with friends.”
Leaving for good
After 21 years in Miami-Dade county, Darren Patz, 44, his wife and their two kids relocated to Thomasville, Georgia in 2017. Cost of living in Miami played a role in the family’s decision to leave, Patz said.
“Housing, entertainment, schools, day to day living has gotten extremely expensive,” he said. “It was time for a change.”
In 2011, Patz and his family bought a 2,604 square-foot home in Miami Shores for $685,000, or $263 per square foot. In 2017, they sold the home for $830,000 and paid $524,000 for a 3,678 square foot home in Thomasville, or $142 per square foot.
“Size of your house, size of your yard, that’s the main thing,” he said. “Of course, I’m not a couple blocks from Biscayne Bay. I’m not 10 minutes from the Miami Heat games, which we used to love. Life is about trade-offs and decisions. In terms of quality of a house and housing, I certainly was able to get a lot more for my money in South Georgia than I was in South Florida.”
Patz said some things are just as expensive in South Georgia, like food and home repair costs, but housing is much more affordable.
So far Patz and his family are happy with the move. Their new home of Thomas County has a population of 44,000, quite different than Miami-Dade county’s 2.7 million.
“You couldn’t get more different,” said Patz. “But everything we need is certainly here.”
Miami Herald reporters Jacqueline Charles and Rene Rodriguez contributed to this report.
PRICED OUT OF PARADISE
This article is part of an ongoing series, Priced out of Paradise, about the how cost housing in South Florida. Find the entire series online at MiamiHerald.com/pricedoutofparadise.
Despite South Florida’s notoriously high cost of housing, some neighborhoods offer strong value for buyers. Seven such neighborhoods are profiled in Business Monday.