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Miami Redevelopment Agency Breaks Ground On Overtown Affordable Housing Project

Sam Turken
The Omni Community Redevelopment Agency is funding renovations on an Overtown affordable housing complex.

A month after Miami leaders passed an affordable housing mandate for new residential buildings in parts of Downtown, a public redevelopment agency is launching its own efforts to address the city’s affordability crisis.

The Omni Community Redevelopment Agency is investing more than $3 million to help rehabilitate a dilapidated affordable housing complex in Overtown. The project known as 16 Corner is part of a plan to spend more than $100 million by 2045 to improve and increase affordable housing across the greater Omni area.

During a groundbreaking for the project on Wednesday, city commissioner and Omni CRA Chair Ken Russell said 16 Corner marks a new push by the city to address Miami's affordable housing shortage and the negative consequences of gentrification.

“What has happened up to now is that gentrification comes at the sake of displacement,” Russell said. “Looking forward we can say, ‘Okay, we want to bring an area out of a certain lower state. But we can do it in a way that cherishes the people that live there now as well and improve their quality of life.”

The rehabilitation project is the latest effort by the city to address its affordability crisis.

Miami's supply of affordable housing has continued to shrink, and more than half of all families in Miami-Dade County spend over 30 percent of their income on rent—one of the worst rent-to-income ratios in the country. Rental prices are increasing in more affordable areas like Overtown, Little Haiti and Allapatah. And although new condos and apartments have sprouted up across Downtown and Midtown in the last decade, most remain unaffordable.

In December, Miami’s city commission took a significant step toward addressing the shortage by requiring developers of new residential towers near the Omni to set aside units for lower-income families. In return, developers will have access to more buildable density to offset foregone revenue from charging lower rates.

Russell and Avra Jain of the Vagabond Group—which is helping to develop 16 Corner—said providing private developers with incentives to create affordable housing is key. Constructing affordable housing and charging below market-rate remains a losing proposition for builders. The 16 Corner project only became possible with funding from the Omni CRA.

“We do not make our money on these projects,” Jain said. “But it’s an investment in the community, and by investing in the community it helps all of us.”

Many of the units that will undergo renovations as part of the 16 Corner project are deteriorating with roach infestations, mold and plumbing issues. The project involves gutting all 44 units in the complex’s five two-story buildings and installing new plumbing, electrical wiring, kitchens and roofs. As part of a public-private partnership, developers have agreed to control rents for 30 years in exchange for a forgivable loan from the Omni CRA.

Rents will remain between $500 to $700 for one and two-bedroom apartments. Residents also will not have to relocate to another housing complex, as often occurs during affordable housing improvements. Rather, they will move into a different unit once renovations begin on their original unit.

Russell said the goal is to prevent Overtown from becoming an area like Wynwood where new development and surging prices have forced out people. 

"Progress is great, but not at the expense of the community that exists," he said. We’re “crafting the neighborhood to suit the residents who live there now instead of scattering them to the wind."

Residents who live at the 16 Corner complex said they were elated about the planned renovations. 

Dareli Lopez has dealt with mold and rats throughout her five years at the complex. Roach infestations are also common, and her son is now allergic to the bugs.

“I can’t even believe it that they doing this,” Lopez said. “It’s like I’m dreaming. I don’t know. Probably I’m sleeping still.”

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