South Florida Experts Discuss Region's Affordable Housing Problem

Feb 26, 2020

South Florida experts on Tuesday discussed the region's affordable housing problem during a conference held by the Urban Land Institute. 

The panel was one of many during the three-day Housing Opportunity 2020 conference in Miami.

Low wages coupled with the high cost of living, lead to unaffordable housing. This is a problem in South Florida, which is the most cost-burdened metro in the region. 

The government considers a household “cost-burdened” when more than 30 percent of a household’s income is spent on housing. 

“The problem we have in Miami-Dade County is similar to the rest of South Florida, that the cost of housing is high relative to wages,” said Michael Liu, director of Miami-Dade County's Public Housing and Community Development Department. 

A 2019 report by Apartments List found that 62.7 percent of Miamians are cost burdened, making Miami the most expensive city to live in among the nations top 100 metros. A United Way report found that 59 percent of households in Miami-Dade County meet their threshold of poverty.

Sandra Veszi Einhorn, executive director of the Coordinating Council of Broward, said that housing is the No. 1 issue that affects the county, where 54% of residents hold low-wage jobs — and more than half spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

She described this phenomena not as affordable housing, but “workforce housing.” 

Data also show fewer people are owning homes and more are renting. 

In Broward, the median cost of a home is $350,000. Less than 13% of residents can afford that, something Einhord described as “pretty crazy.” 

“The overwhelming majority of people who live in housing that is considered affordable, they are working, they are part of our economy, doing the best they can,” she said. 

It’s not only low-wage workers who are affected by lack of affordable housing. 

In Palm Beach County, employers struggle to recruit and retain businesses. A survey by Florida International University found that people weren’t moving to the county because of housing.

“They loved the area, they loved the incentives, but they could live like kings in other places and have these mansions, but if they came to Palm Beach County they were really going to have to sacrifice on the housing,” said Suzanne Cabrera, president and CEO of Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County. 

Cabral added that the lack of affordable housing has even pushed away engineers. 

“My husband works there (Aerojet Rocketdyne) and they cannot recruit new starting engineers at $85,000 a year with great benefits,” Cabral said. “If you cannot recruit a rocket scientist in your county, you got a huge problem.”

Solutions

In Palm Beach County, the business community took the housing issue seriously.

It led to the creation of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County, modeled after a similar council in San Mateo County, California. The council has been able to push housing policies like inclusionary zoning and the Workforce Housing Program.

“In Palm Beach County, we look at any way to hack away at the problem,” Cabrera said.

Panelists spoke to how they often have to find “creative” solutions.

In Miami-Dade County, that means creating partnerships with “nontraditional partners,” like the Miami-Dade County School Board, the Miami Dade County Library System and churches. Liu said the county will use their land to build affordable housing.

“There is land available you just have to be creative and be willing to ask and push,” he said. 

In Broward, creative solutions have taken the form of working with various stakeholders. Housing Broward: An Inclusive Plan,  is a plan that incorporated the county, nonprofits, and others.

“What we found in housing was there is no one entity, it's not just government that needs to come to the table, or nonprofit, or the private sector, everybody really has to do something differently in order to make it work,” Einhorn said.

In addition, Einhorn said Broward County commissioners allocated $15 million towards affordable housing in the latest budget. 

The panelists also exemplified efforts made at the local level, since funding at the state and federal level can be precarious, and change according to leadership.

“God, I try to ignore D.C., no offense, and the state,” Cabrera said. “That’s why we really try to ... insulate ourselves from what happens.”