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The South Florida Roundup

New Plan Seeks to Increase Affordable Housing in Miami

The Miami skyline is seen in this aerial view with cranes, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Miami.

The rent is just too high for a lot of people living in South Florida. In Miami, many renters spend at least half of their paychecks on housing.  And consider this: The median household income for people in the city of Miami is $34,000. The average rent is around $1,800 across apartment sizes. That would cost someone making an average income two-thirds of their paycheck before taxes.

The City of Miami ordered a study about a year ago to  help solve its housing affordability crisis, and that plan was released this week by the Jorge M. Perez Metropolitan Center at FIU.

Among its goals, the plan seeks to create a bank focused on affordable housing, change permitting and local zoning codes and push to get thousands of new affordable housing units over the next decade.

The South Florida Roundup delved into the issue of affordable housing in Miami. Host Tom Hudson discussed South Florida’s housing affordability with Dr. Ned Murray, associate director of the Jorge M. Perez Metropolitan Center, FIU, and Annie Lord, executive director of Miami Homes for All.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

The South Florida Roundup: Can the problem of affordable housing be solved with new housing only?

ANNIE LORD: No, certainly not. And that's one of the things I really like about the Metropolitan Center's plan and for the city of Miami is that, I think, equally important to new affordable housing units.

We have to be preserving units because, you know, that's the digging the hole phenomenon. Right. If we lose a unit and we are losing them really quickly is man and his team pointed out in the plan. If we if we can stop the hemorrhage of units and every year we build, you know, is going to actually add to supply. So that's got to be equally important.

The South Florida Roundup: Ned, how do you go about preserving existing housing and ensuring its affordability in the years ahead?

NED MURRAY: Well, first of all, Tom, we have to recognize that this is the biggest kitchen table issue facing the majority of Miami residents right now.

We have nearly 40,000 renters who now are paying in excess of 50 cents on every dollar on housing costs. And over 10,000 owners, which means that the first of every month you have to figure out how you can pay your medical costs, your food bills, clothing, your kids transportation, transportation cost. We haven't even gotten into that. So that's the scope and scale. In fact, we were quite we were quite stunned ourselves when we got into the analysis to see the scope and the scale.

The South Florida Roundup: I want to get back to existing housing. But is that scope or scale mirrored in any other place in the country in your estimation or experience?

NED MURRAY: It isn't. And it gets back to the first question, which means can we just build out ways out of this? Because there is the other denominators which is the economy and wages. We are not the most unaffordable city in the country relative to housing values, but we have the most unaffordable in terms of our ability as households, given our wages and household income to be able to pay for the rents and the mortgages that we have in place.

The South Florida Roundup:  So how about this idea of having to rely not just on building new units, but having to rely on the current stock of housing and turning some of that into affordable product?

NED MURRAY: That's right. And that's why the emphasis of the plan is to really focus on neighborhoods. It's saving our neighborhoods, the soul of Miami, which is our neighborhoods and our people, our cultures and these neighborhoods, the fabric of our neighborhoods are smaller, small housing structures, 5 to 50 units typically.

So we really want to focus in on those because that's where our greatest opportunities are for preservation. And also, if we are going to do infill, those would be the greatest opportunities for new construction.

The South Florida Roundup:  So Annie Lord with Miami Homes For All, what you're hearing from Ned in this specific comment that he makes is multi family housing, apartment buildings, essentially. What about the single family home, the American dream?

ANNIE LORD:  Right. There's so much that can be done to preserve. There's extensive stock of what we know are traditional single family detached homes, which, you know, also features in the plan, and that's also something that's been highlighted and articulated elsewhere.

You know, as we think about the future and what we continue to, you know, what do we build for the future? I think we have to reckon with the fact that we are locked by, you know, an ocean and the land is not expanding and we don't want to move that urban development boundary.

And so we have people, you know, moving to this part of the country. And we've got to actually figure out how we're going to accommodate those people. Single-family detached homes that do not add density anywhere is not going to be the solution. What does that mean? That means we've got to find the right places where we can. As Ned said, we can preserve the character of neighborhoods where we're not, you know, decreasing quality of life for folks.

But along, you know, busy transit corridors, those are really right places for moderately increasing density. Was that mean that small scale apartment buildings and I you know, there's 50 to 100 units like Ned mentioned.

And so, you know, I think that we all need to be thinking about apartment buildings. You most renters right now and most renters in the city of Miami live in that kind of those kinds of buildings right now.

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Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.