U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson continued his visit to Miami Thursday. Carson is on what he calls a cross-country “listening tour” learning about the projects HUD and other housing organizations fund.
His trip came about a month after President Donald Trump introduced his proposed budget, which did not include funds for many current HUD programs, together shaving roughly $6 billion from the HUD budget.
Carson visited one recipient of so-called HOME funds, which is one of the programs on the chopping block. Villa Aurora in Little Havana, a public-private partnership between Miami-Dade County and Carrfour Supportive Housing, received a $899,489 loan of HOME funds to pay for construction costs.
“This building wouldn’t have come to fruition without the HOME funding,” said Stephanie Berman, president and CEO of Carrfour.
Carson later addressed questions about cuts to the HOME funding.
“It may be a different nomenclature; we may not call it the same thing. There’s a lot of duplication that's going on and inefficiency. All of that is going to be modified, but we are clearly going to maintain those programs that are working very well,” said Carson.
Half of the units at Villa Aurora are for formerly homeless families who pay 30 percent of whatever income they receive. The rest of the units are low-income affordable units for families who make less than 60 percent of the area median income, which is roughly $43,000 a year for a family of four.
Janet Torres has lived in Villa Aurora for five years after being homeless for close to two years.
"This program helped me a lot to get a stable home and have a roof over my head with my kids, so this is very important," Torres said. "This has helped me and many other families."
For her four-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, she says she pays $547 for her family of six.
Villa Aurora and another housing community, Hoffman Gardens in Hialeah, are examples of what Carson suggests is the future of affordable housing: public-private partnerships.
“I just really appreciate the fact that we are starting to learn as a nation that it’s the private-public partnerships that work because there’s almost unlimited money in the private sector," Carson said. "There’s very limited money in the government, but it’s government that can stimulate these kinds of programs and facilitate that. That’s the answer."
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, was also on the tour.
“It’s no secret that the cost of housing continues to rise and it’s one of the major issues that you have here in South Florida is the fact that folks cannot afford housing,” Diaz-Balart said.
HUD can address some of the housing needs, especially at the lower end of the income spectrum. However, for those in South Florida’s middle class who continue to be housing-cost burdened — they pay more than 30-percent of their income on housing — ultimately the solution is to get the economy going, Diaz-Balart said.
“We cannot continue to be the United States of America that we know it if we’re growing at 2 percent,” said Diaz-Balart.
Having said that, he acknowledges there will always be people who need help with housing and it is necessary to figure out how to do that as efficiently as possible.
Earlier in the day, Carson met Linda McMahon, administrator of the Federal Small Business Administration and former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO, at Versailles Cuban Restaurant in Little Havana. What made news there: He ordered a chicken empanada, no cafecito.