Deltravis Williams and his family left South Miami the week after Easter because of the rising cost and the dwindling supply of affordable housing in the city.
Williams, who was born and raised in South Miami, said his grandparents were part of the first meeting at City Hall to discuss the Madison Square affordable housing project. Decades later, the project is still on the dais.
“My grandmother died 10 years ago and my grandfather died three years ago,” said Williams, who previously served on the city’s CRA board and planning board. “People have been fighting about this thing for three decades now. People are dead and gone and we are still fighting for it and talking about it. We have all of this development going on all around South Miami, almost every neighborhood something is going on. But when the Marshall Williamson Community asks for something, it’s a problem.”
On Oct. 14, the city commission held a special meeting to review an agenda filled with ordinances regarding the project. The commission could not come to a unanimous agreement on the items, sending city staff back to rewrite the ordinances to be heard at a future meeting.
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“We had a pretty good meeting with attorneys Thursday morning,” City Manager Steven Alexander said. “We conceptualized the whole thing. We sort of mapped out what we need to do and what we need to write. Then it’s a process of drafting it up and getting everybody’s comments and getting it into the best condition and then start talking to the commissioners about it.”
After discussing a change from the proposed 75 units to 41 units at an Oct. 6 meeting, Commissioner Gabriel Edmond suggested downsizing again to 40 units at the property on Southwest 61st Court and 64th Terrace. Alexander said Green Mills LLC originally said it would not build fewer than 41 units, but now agrees to amend the deal.
“Now Edmond wants no more than 40 units, which means rewriting the agreement with the developer,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “Over one unit? Why would you rewrite (the developer’s contract) over one unit? It’s a waste of staff time and resources, all for the purpose of depriving one family of an affordable dwelling.”
Edmond could not be reached for comment, but did propose a “phased” approach at the meeting.
“If you think a couple people in a room are going to decide this and get everyone to go along, it’s not going to happen,” Edmond said from the dais. “I think the way for it is what I would call a three-phase approach: 40 units on Madison Square. We get that done. Phase 2, we look for additional property, we try to do 30 more units or whatever we can do somewhere else. Phase 3: We have a discussion about affordable housing across the city,” he said.
“Keep in mind, we have some affordable housing that is coming online. Metro South is going to be going online. I don’t know to what degree people are going to have access to that, that was before I was on the commission. I would like to see that people do have access.”
Much of the disagreement on the development has been based on the height and density of the project spanning between two and four stories.
At one point, the city was looking to gain a 9 percent tax credit subsidy, but the Florida Housing Finance Corp. established a 75-unit minimum density requirement. Commission disagreement on the 75-units meant looking for alternative financing.
“There is a neighborhood revitalization grant which provides 9 percent tax credit,” Stoddard said. “If we get all the zoning changes and land-use changes and comp plan changes done by the time that RFA (request for applications) comes out, then the developer can apply for the revitalization tax credit. The problem is, the more complicated you make this and the more things that have to get changed, the harder it is to make that deadline. This insistence on radical changes in the original plan, rewriting the contract, etc., just makes it harder to hit those deadlines.”
Williams said he would move back to South Miami if the commission builds Madison Square “the right way.”
“I supported Commissioner Edmond in 2012, when he first ran,” Williams said. “Me and my mother. We feel let down by him. He told the community, campaigned, went through the Marshall Williamson neighborhood, and told our neighborhood that he’s in favor of Madison Square. He campaigned on this. He’s not listening to us. He’s listening to the people on the other side of U.S. 1 and people that don’t even live in the neighborhood.”
While Williams voted for Edmond, he did not vote for Vice Mayor Walter Harris, whom he said “campaigned and knocked on doors regarding Madison Square.”
“I like, everyone else, was kind of dragged through the mud unnecessarily,” Harris said from the dais. “I got emails and things. A flier was sent around saying Commissioner Edmond and myself were holding everything up. The fact is, I’ve always been for Madison Square. When I ran for office, I said I would support Madison Square. I also said I would keep it to three stories.”
Harris says that he does not support any ordinances that pertain to 75 units on the property.
“The 75 units is not a practical reality,” Harris said from the dais. “We need to face that reality, that just allowing 75 units there just because we are holding up this carrot at the end of a nine-mile stick is absurd. That’s the main reason I don’t want to do it. I’ve always been for the 41. I thought we all were. I’m so naïve. I thought it was a done deal. I’m against and I’m going to vote no for all the various things that will expand (Madison Square) to 75 units because I don’t believe that is in our best interest.”
One ordinance changes the designation of the Marshall Williamson property from single-family residential two story to multifamily residential four story. Another ordinance would change the property’s zoning from small lot single-family residential district RS-4 to low-density multifamily residential district RM-18. Other ordinances call for amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan and land development code.
“My mother and all my cousins have moved out of South Miami in the last 40 years,” Williams said. “We all want to come back to South Miami but there is nowhere for us to stay that is affordable. My mother and I were the last. In South Miami, we’ve lost over 150 families, mine is one of them. They just don’t get it.”
The commission has up to three meetings to hear the items.
Stoddard said he hears from families, sometimes on a daily basis, who have been displaced and are looking for a place to stay in South Miami.
“To see people who are comfortable in their lives, who live in other neighborhoods even, coming and trying to keep people from getting affordable housing just tears me apart,” Stoddard said.