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Miami-Dade audit report shows affordable housing program failures since 1997

Stephenie Collie sits in her Liberty City efficiency for which she pays $900 a month. To renew her lease, she will have to pay $1,100 for the unit.
Daniel Rivero
Stephenie Collie sits in her Liberty City efficiency for which she pays $900 a month. To renew her lease, she will have to pay $1,100 for the unit.

The findings reflect more than two decades of shortcomings and lack of oversight from the county government.

After the Miami-Dade County government has spent more than two decades giving public properties to developers to encourage the creation of affordable housing, an uncomfortable reality has emerged: Parts of the program have been a dismal failure.

That is the conclusion of areport issued by the Miami-Dade Office of the Commission Auditor, the office that oversees the county commission.

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The report reviewed an estimated 1,400 properties given to developers to build affordable housing since 1997. The properties were intended to be developed and sold off to the public for affordable rates, as defined by the county.

In its findings, the audit found that much of the land that was meant to foster the development of affordable housing was never used for that purpose. Rather, some developers appear to have engaged in shenanigans that have resulted in hundreds of public properties being used improperly, if not outright lost.

In the midst of Miami-Dade facing the most severe housing affordability crisis in the nation, the report is “embarrassing” for the county government, admitted commission chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who has been a commissioner since 2002. He asked the auditor's office for the report.

“Am I upset? Yes. At the result of something to this level, of this magnitude? Of course. Every one of us are upset,” Diaz said at a public meeting last week. “This is something that is not gonna make us look good in any way, shape or form.”

Some of the top-level findings in the report:

  • 28 properties were lost to foreclosures after developers used the land as collateral for other loans that they then failed to pay.
  • About 282 properties had housing built on them that was later sold for more than what the county defines as “affordable,” meaning the lots did not provide affordable housing as intended.
  • Many properties have sat vacant and undeveloped for much longer than agreed to by contract: By the end of 2022 an estimated 236 properties will have lapsed.
  • An estimated 42 properties had their ownership transferred to other entities without prior approval from the county, as required.

Florida City, for example, acquired nine properties designated for affordable housing in 2003. Rather than developing them, the city transferred ownership to the Florida City Community Redevelopment Agency, which is meant to develop poor neighborhoods and remove blight. But the agency let the properties sit vacant and undeveloped for years until it sold them off in 2018 and 2021.
The entities never notified the county of the sales, as required.

The findings reflect more than two decades of shortcomings and lack of oversight from the county government, but it does not largely reflect the policies of the administration of current Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

Data provided in the report shows the number of properties “conveyed” to developers by year, and the number sharply decreased during the first full year of her term in 2021. The mayor’s office issued a preliminary report on the issue late last year, and she said an overhaul of oversight and management is underway.

“Our standard operating procedures are in their final draft, including a data system to track these cases so that they are monitored,” said Levine Cava.

The mayor’s office is preparing to add additional staff to review and monitor cases going forward.

“A lot of these conveyances were made without staff review — before my time,” she said.

The properties that have been "conveyed" to developers are concentrated in North and South Dade, with the wealthier central and coastal areas mostly unaffected.

Miami-Dade Office of the Commission Auditor

Several commissioners are calling for a pause on giving lands to developers until updated procedures and oversight are fully implemented. Commissioner Raquel Regalado suggested the county should sue some developers over their actions and said some title agents could be held responsible for their actions in helping transfer properties without abiding by deed restrictions.

For his part, Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz said he has called on the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General to investigate. That office often recommends criminal charges to prosecutors when it finds clear evidence of potential criminal activity.

With so many properties sitting vacant and undeveloped for so much longer than agreed to, the county commission in the coming weeks is expected to review these cases to assess if the county government can take them back. The ability to take properties back if a developer was not living up to their end of the bargain has always been an option, but until now, it has rarely been exercised.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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