Miami-Dade County

Developers resist mandatory workforce-housing rules

A proposal by Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan would require developers of projects with at least 20 housing units to set aside 10 percent of their inventory for working-class families.
A proposal by Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan would require developers of projects with at least 20 housing units to set aside 10 percent of their inventory for working-class families. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A push to mandate workforce housing in new Miami-Dade projects met with warnings Thursday from developers who said the rules would boost real estate prices for home buyers making too much money to qualify for the help.

The proposal by County Commissioner Barbara Jordan would require developers of projects with at least 20 housing units to set aside 10 percent of their inventory for families making up to 140 percent of the median income in Miami-Dade. That is currently $43,000, according to the latest Census figures, so the target market would be capped at families making about $60,000 a year.

In exchange for reserving the units for working-class buyers, developers could build 15 percent more units than zoning currently allows. Developers could also opt out of the restrictions by paying an undetermined fee for each required unit, with the money going to a fund used to subsidize affordable-housing projects.

Local developers have focused on luxury homes, at the expense of less-profitable starter homes. It is critical for people to have an option to live near where they work.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan

“It will stifle development in Miami-Dade County,” Ben Solomon, a condominium lawyer who serves as president of the Builders Association of South Florida, told members of the County Commission’s Economic Prosperity committee. “The initial impact may be to developers. And thereafter, it will be passed on through the cost of housing to the consumers.”

The ordinance would leave many of the financial details to the county’s Housing department, including the opt-out fees and what developers would need to charge to workforce buyers, who would have to earn at least 60 percent of the median family income. The pricing requirements would apply to units for rent and for sale.

Backers of the ordinance described it as a modest requirement imposed on an industry famous for creating some of the Miami area’s wealthiest individuals. By requiring developers to price some units for working-class buyers, supporters argued, Miami-Dade could bring relief to a housing market that’s one of the least affordable in the nation.

The initial impact may be to developers. And thereafter, it will be passed on through the cost of housing to the consumers.

Ben Solomon, president of the Builders Association of South Florida

Miami-Dade recently tied with Los Angeles for having the least affordable homes among major metropolitan areas, with 40 percent of residents paying at least half of their income toward living costs. Several speakers linked Miami-Dade’s pricey housing to the area’s inability to keep college graduates from heading to markets where they can find affordable homes closer to well-paying jobs.

“A lot of my peers opt to leave Miami,” said Valencia Gunder, who runs a Miami nonprofit focused on homeless assistance. “I try to motivate them to stay. But when you can’t find housing close to your job, it makes the decision to leave even easier.”

Miami Gardens resident Volma Volcy told commissioners he faced sticker shock when he contemplated life after attending college at the University of Central Florida. “Rent is so high,” he said. “If you don’t want to move home with mom and dad, it’s a bit difficult to move back down here.”

The comments previewed a larger fight to come over the most ambitious effort yet to mandate housing for residents who make too much to qualify for subsidized housing. Committee members approved Jordan’s plan with only one dissenting vote, by Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. But some members said not to count on their support when the ordinance comes before the full 13-member commission next month.

“Someone has to compensate for what’s not being paid for that other 10 percent” of required workforce units, said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson. “I’m sure the developer’s not going to pay it.”

When you can’t find housing close to your job, it makes the decision to leave even easier.

Valencia Gunder

Jordan’s plan is modeled after a program in Montgomery County, Maryland, which has mandated workforce housing in new developments since the 1970s. Clarence Snuggs, housing director there, said the rules encourage more diverse neighborhoods. “It does tend to help us avoid major concentrations of poverty by dispersing opportunities for working-class families and lower-income families throughout the county,” Snuggs said in an interview earlier this year.

In her comments, Jordan said she’s already gotten assurances from local banks that the workforce-housing set-asides won’t hurt a project’s ability to qualify for construction loans. She urged developers to see the density bonuses as a fair trade: Build 15 percent more units, but charge less than market-rate only to 10 percent of buyers.

“Local developers have focused on luxury homes, at the expense of less-profitable starter homes,” she said. “It is critical for people to have an option to live near where they work.”

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