Community leaders and officials from the nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) defended a proposed high-rise tower dedicated to low-income housing in downtown Fort Lauderdale Tuesday.
Over the last week, city residents have expressed opposition to the project on social media, citing doubts over how well potential residents would be vetted. Some people have asked if the units are only for people living with HIV, or if the building is a shelter.
At AHF's campus in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, President Michael Weinstein said Tuesday the organization is simply responding to an overwhelming need for affordable housing.
A recent study from The Harvard Joint Center For Housing Studies found a larger amount of Broward County residents to be severely cost-burdened than any other metro area in the U.S.
“There’s a huge issue that’s been identified with, not only homelessness, but especially with affordability," he said.
“The question is, will Fort Lauderdale, will Los Angeles, will all these many other communities of great wealth continue to be places that are hospitable for people of a low income, or will these cities become, in essence, rich ghettos?”
The proposed apartments would be some of the smallest in all of Broward; most would be 263 sq. ft., and some would be 400 sq. ft.Exact rent prices haven't been set just yet, but the smaller apartments would go for under $500 per month.
The majority of households in Broward County are cost-burdened or severely cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent - or 50 percent - of their monthly income, on rent alone. AHF created The Healthy Housing Foundation, a separate entity, to help fund these types of low-income housing projects. Several have already been built in Los Angeles.
“This is not a project exclusively for people living with HIV,” Weinstein said Tuesday.
(It is illegal to ask whether a potential tenant is living with HIV.)
Growing outcry from Fort Lauderdale neighborhood associations against the development began more than a week ago. A handful of critics attended Tuesday's press conference, and tensions were high as both sides had to shout over each other at times.
Phil Keagy, who lives in the nearby Rio Vista neighborhood, told AHF officials Tuesday that he's worried about the process being used to fill the building.
“These people need services,” he said. “They need places to find a job…they need medical, there are mentally-ill people, all kinds of stuff. Maybe sex offenders. I don’t know how well these people are going to be vetted. An un-vetted person is a person, we don’t know their past.”
Other residents critical of the development voiced their concerns about how large the project would be. "It's just the mass scale I'm concerned about," one woman called out upon exiting the room.
Community leader Robin Merrill, who started the Christian Cultural Deveopment Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, was taken aback by the criticism.
"I was actually very surprised about objection to this beautiful building and project, when there is so much development and building going on," she said.
The proposed 680-unit building would sit across from the current AHF campus, on SE 4th Avenue and between SE 7th and SE 8th Streets. The land, which is currently an empty lot and some parking, is already owned by AHF.
The new development would be walking distance from the current AHF campus across the street, which is home to Broward County’s wellness clinic for sexually-transmitted infections, as well as two pharmacies, an HIV healthcare center and a dental office.
To be eligible, residents will need to have an ID, undergo a criminal background check, and show proof that they have a source of income, according to AHF's Southern Bureau Chief, Michael Kahane.Violent felons and sex offenders will not be eligible.
“Anyone who wants to apply and meets the criteria will be housed,” he said.
Kahane also addressed accusations that the foundation hasn’t been fully transparent throughout the development process so far. He called the claims, “not accurate.”
“We began outreach from the beginning,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors.”
The proposal will now go before the Fort Lauderdale Development Review Committee, made up of city staff. The foundation is hoping to be able to apply for permits in early 2019.