District 5 Candidate Eileen Higgins Says Miami-Dade Needs To Re-Examine Housing And Transit

Jun 7, 2018

The Miami-Dade County Commission District 5 seat has not been open for 20 years.

Former Commissioner Bruno Barreiro resigned earlier this year to run for Congress, causing the need for a special election. 

In the May 22 primary, newcomer Eileen Higgins, a progressive Democrat, took 35 percent of the vote, and Barreiro’s wife, Zoraida Barreiro, came in second with a close 33 percent. Higgins says it was a surprise to her that a progressive message and candidate resonated more with people of Miami-Dade.

The runoff election is June 19 and Higgins joined Sundial to talk about transportation, sea-level rise and affordable housing. Higgins says she hopes to improve quality of life in District 5, a predominantly Latino area.

WLRN has also invited Zoraida Barreiro for a separate conversation to be held ahead of the special election.

WLRN: You have talked to the media -- a lot of Spanish media. This is a very Hispanic district.

Higgins: Yes, over 60 percent Hispanic. The majority of the people who did vote for me were Hispanic. We all share the same problems. Either the things that we need to fix in our community, the high cost of housing, the fact that we have these low wage jobs everywhere that never seem to increase our salaries, the fact traffic is at a standstill and transit is completely unreliable. People are ready to stop talking about these things and have a commissioner that's a little more guided towards action.

Let's talk about some of the big issues. One of them: transit. The commission is going to be voting soon on this extension of the 836 freeway.

So for me anybody that's lived in Miami has seen that all of the construction of our new freeways hasn't resulted in any shorter commutes or any less of a traffic quagmire. The idea that we would spend $600 million on a road rather than on transit in some of our most vulnerable lands to climate change. Again that is just money that I'm not positive we're spending it in the right direction. I just think the solution to our traffic problems...Yeah, we need smart signals but we also need transit and we've been putting that off forever and we can't.

So you [Higgins] rely heavily on public transit. That's very much how you get around. Where do you see the biggest challenges as a rider yourself?

I mean it's really interesting being a rider versus sitting in a conference room. We have low ridership in part because we've been cutting buses but we also have it because the service is so unreliable. The kinds of things that drive people away from transit: the buses that don't come, the buses that don't stop on time and some of the routes don't make sense they're so long.

Another big issue is affordable housing. What can this county commission do in trying to help alleviate this problem?

It's the county and the cities in conjunction but there are things that other cities who are facing this sort of problem are doing. Things we have not yet done. So for example, inclusive zoning. In 2016, I was part of a group that was trying to advocate for mandatory inclusive zoning. If you want to build an 80-story, beautiful, luxurious, high-rise tower... that's fine, we need those but ... about eight floors or five floors should be for workforce housing.

The commission decided not to vote for that [inclusive zoning]. They've instead made it voluntary and if it continues as a voluntary system it means the incentives the county has put in place aren't good enough to be making this happen, at a rapid enough rate. We need to look at that and re-examine that again.