New Tool Shows Vacant Land Across Miami Available For Affordable Housing

Apr 4, 2019

A new tool created by the University of Miami Center for Civic and Community Engagement identifies potential land around Miami-Dade County that can be used for affordable housing. Called LAND, which stands for "Land Access for Neighborhood Development," it identifies parcels of empty or underutilized land. 

Robin Bachin, an assistant provost of the civic center who's led the project, said the project team had discovered 500 million square feet of such land across Miami-Dade County while working on the project -- "the equivalent of the land mass of Manhattan." 

Last month, a report by Florida International University illustrated the severity of the lack of affordable housing in South Florida. It found homeowners and renters in the region are among the most cost-burdened in the country; six in 10 are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Bachin and Jorge Damian de la Paz, manager of the program, joined Sundial to talk about the tool.

WLRN: How did it all start? What was the catalyst?

BACHIN: When we first founded the Office of Civic and Community Engagement in 2011 we really wanted to devote our resources and energy to addressing the affordable housing crisis. Miami is one of the least affordable metropolitan regions in the country. So we know for example that when you combine the cost of housing with the cost of transit, the metropolitan Miami area is the least affordable in the country, especially for our low-income renters. We created what started out as one mapping platform called 'Map the Miami Affordability Project' that maps cost burden and access to affordable and public housing and then developed a whole suite of online mapping tools so that people could really visualize the landscape of housing affordability across South Florida and have a better understanding of land use and access in the county.

Jorge, you look at this map and there is a lot [of land] available. Describe how you gathered the data and information to put this map together.

DE LA PAZ: We pulled data from various sources including the transportation planning organization, the property appraiser and the City of Miami's housing agency. And by gathering all the scattered information into one interactive map for the very first time we're solving a real pain-point for community development organizations.

Robin Bachin (left) and Jorge Damian de la Paz (right) with the University of Miami.
Credit University of Miami Center for Civic and Community Engagement

How should I be looking at the map? I'm looking at all these different plot points scattered about the county.

DE LA PAZ: It's important to remember of the 500 million square feet, some of those properties could be unbuildable or some optimal because of its position, zoning or environmental capacity. This is data that's going to be continuously refined over time. I think one of the most important insights of LAND is where there are county owned surplus lots. These properties are no longer needed by any of the county's agencies and that could be conveyed, sold or leased to an eligible for profit or non-profit developer. And there's land you can identify where there's concentrations of these surplus properties for the first time. I think there's a lot of potential for aggregations or land swaps using these vacant surplus properties.

Who is this site and information for?

BACHIN: One of our goals in creating this tool is to basically level the playing field and democratize data. Big developers have had access to this data for a long time, but what we want to do is basically put this data in the hands of everyday residents, community organizations and housing activist groups so they could be more effective strategists and advocates for affordable housing.

When you look at this map just a glance, what's the thing that jumps out most to you?

BACHIN: There are really sites all over the county, but some of those sites are scattered, some of them are nonconforming. This does create opportunities to think innovatively about how we can use that land.

Read more: Report: South Florida's Housing Affordability Crisis Among Worst In Nation

Also on today’s program: Earlier this week, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed the state's first chief science officer. During his campaign for governor, DeSantis promised to make restoring the Everglades and water quality a key part of his administration. On Sundial, we met WLRN’s new environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich. She gave an update on recent environmental news in South Florida.