Edison - Liberty City

Miami wants community input on citywide plan to create more affordable housing

New housing complex brings the beginning of transformation to Liberty City

A brand new affordable housing complex in Liberty City celebrates change and hope with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The Villages Miami offers residents a gated community with 150-units, a resource center, playground and a swimming pool.
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A brand new affordable housing complex in Liberty City celebrates change and hope with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The Villages Miami offers residents a gated community with 150-units, a resource center, playground and a swimming pool.

As people struggle to pay for housing in Miami, officials are looking for community input as they develop a citywide affordable housing plan.

Earlier this year, the Miami City Commission approved an agreement to work with Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center to craft a comprehensive road map for how to tackle Miami’s affordable housing problem. The city also received a $200,000 grant from the Center for Community Investment to connect developers, government officials, banks and nonprofit advocates to discuss realistic ways to create or preserve 12,000 affordable housing units by 2024.

Now the city wants the community to weigh in on different strategies to deal with the issue. Should the city create zoning laws that force developers to include affordable units in new buildings? Should there be a new tax on owners of vacant property, or should developers or property owners who provide new affordable units be rewarded with lowered taxes? Should the city just eliminate bureaucratic red tape for developers who promise affordable housing?

Miami’s department of housing and community development wants residents to participate in the discussion at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Charles Hadley Park Community Room in Liberty City, 1350 NW 50th St. Residents can learn about the city’s efforts and to give feedback while the plan is being developed.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Hernan Guerrero, housing development coordinator at the city.

Hernan Guerrero, left, leads a discussion at a recent community meeting on how to expand affordable housing in Miami. A housing development coordinator for the city of Miami, Guerrero guided conversations about strategies for creating more affordable units among community members such as Michael Roman, right. Joey Flechas jflechas@miamiherald.com

At a recent community meeting in Little Havana, about two dozen people talked about the pros and cons of different government housing policies and ranked their priorities. For some, mandatory inclusionary zoning (requiring builders to include affordable units in new private developments in exchange for the right to build bigger) made the most sense.

Miami commissioners recently gave initial approval to this policy for a small section of downtown that sits east of Overtown and west of Northeast Second Avenue and the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, within the Omni community redevelopment district. A second and final vote is expected this month. If approved, the measure would be the first mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance to be implemented in Miami.

Others said the approach needs to be carefully implemented because it could lead to oversized development that dramatically changes the character of neighborhoods.

“My fear is neighborhoods would become too dense,” said Michael Roman, community partnerships manager at Live Health Little Havana.

Others said streamlining the approvals process for developers who build affordable units will act as an incentive. Participants also offered ideas for newer approaches, such as encouraging “co-living” developments — buildings where people can rent single bedrooms and share living space with others.

“Maybe that’s something we can embrace,” said Arely Lozano Cantú, a program manager at Urban Health Partnerships.

Guerrero guided community discussions in Little Havana and Overtown, where he said the feedback so far is that affordability extends beyond the brick and mortar of new buildings and government housing policy.

Several people stressed that they need housing that is located near public transit and essential amenities (grocery stores, medical clinics, etc.), and new developments should provide construction jobs to locals and then give them access to the newly built units. Residents also want the government to create an accurate definition of affordability. While wages have moved little for many workers, they’ve been burdened by having to spend more than 30 percent of their income toward housing, a threshold accepted as a standard financial planning rule.

Miami is already working on a new income chart to reflect what city residents can afford. Academic research shows that about 60 percent of Miami’s households are spending above the 30 percent threshold, some even more than 50 percent.

Of all cost-burdened households, about 74 percent are renters, and the rest are owners.

Guerrero said residents want to see policies that not only help them afford housing now but also keep neighborhoods together and give them opportunities to build wealth.

“It’s about creating an opportunity to move up the ladder,” he said.

A draft of the FIU plan will be released in early 2019, which will lead to more community meetings before a final plan is presented to the city later in the spring.