Largest Grassroots Group To Talk Housing

By John Dorschner
    As more than 1,000 persons prepare to gather next Monday to demand solutions for affordable housing, the county commission has yet to consider any major measure to deal with the growing problem.
    The meeting -- described as the county's "largest grassroots residents gathering" -- is sponsored by PACT, a Miami group that brings together the social efforts of 40 churches, synagogues, mosques and universities.

    PACT (People Acting for Community Together) will meet at New Birth Baptist Church at 2300 NW 135th St. at 7:30 p.m. on Monday [March 14] to discuss the two major issues the group considers the prime problems: The lack of affordable housing and juvenile justice.
    PACT estimates that more than 250,000 working families "can't afford to live in our county."
    More precisely, the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida estimated that in 2013 more 250,000 were paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing -- a huge expense when national housing authorities say that, for a survivable lifestyle, people should spend no more than 30 percent of income for housing.
      More than 500 communities nationwide have dealt with the housing problem by passing some type of inclusionary zoning -- requiring larger developers to contribute to affordable housing.
    For some months now, there have been tentative discussions about such an ordinance for Miami-Dade -- but no action.    

     In 2007, Commissioner Barbara Jordan advocated an ordinance requiring developers to pay into a trust fund. Fierce push-back from the construction community doomed the plan. The commission set up a fund, but made contributions voluntary. After eight years, it had $2 million.
Barbara Jordan

    Last August, Jordan and Commissioner Xavier Suarez separately discussed the possibility of some kind of affordable housing initiative. Suarez suggested a "linkage," in which developers could be asked to contribute to a fund. (That story available HERE.)
    Jordan said she was developing her own idea, and Suarez said he would defer to her. Six months later, Jordan is still considering exactly what to propose.

                Jordan's Plan Should be Ready Soon
    Andre Ragin, an aide to Jordan, wrote in a recent email: "We have a working draft of an ordinance that should be ready to go in the next couple of months. Over the past several months, the commissioner has held a few round table discussions with the development community and other affordable/workforce housing stakeholders to gather their input."
    Truly Burton, executive vice president of the Builders Association of South Florida, has said developers are adamantly opposed to be required to pay into a fund.
    Last week, Terry Murphy, senior policy advisor for  Commission Chairman Jean Monestime, told an audience at a downtown seminar (available HERE) that the inclusionary housing issue now "has traction" locally because at present there's a "progressive commission."

                                 Suarez: "A Hard Sell" 

    Suarez isn't so sure. "Mandatory inclusionary housing, countywide, is a hard sell, even counting on all Dems (6) and one progressive independent (me). But Bruno (R) and others who are Reps occasionally support such measures," he wrote in a recent email.
Xavier Suarez

    "Frankly, I don't like pushing affordable housing down any neighborhood's throats (linkage ordinances are different) when three of the most needy neighborhoods (East Little Havana, Wynwood and Overtown) are walking distance to the largest workplace and Homestead/Florida City Perrine, where land is cheapest and affordable housing coveted, are soon to be connected via mass transit to Dadeland," Suarez wrote.
    He was differentiating between two types of measures. In one -- such as now being done in New York -- developers are getting benefits (such as added building height) by including, say, 10 percent of low-income units in a building of luxury apartments.
    Another type of measure -- including what Suarez calls "linkage" -- has developers contribute to an affordable housing trust fund, and then trust directors can chose where to build the units.

              County Makes Inclusionary Info Available
    Clearly, the affordable housing issue is stirring talk. The county's homepage for the Department of Public Housing and Community Development recently linked to two crucial inclusionary issues -- one is a study on its benefits by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. (The Lincoln studies were first mentioned by this blog October 2. That story available HERE.) The county site also lists a directory of present inclusionary programs, including one in Palm Beach County.
Michael Liu
  Michael Liu, director of the county department, said in an email: "The information provided on our web page regarding inclusionary zoning is to assist the many interested parties in researching this complex subject."

     PACT, which represents over 50,000 persons in its member groups, holds an annual meeting, called the Nehemiah Action Assembly, "where justice ministry members seek commitments from local leaders to address community problems."

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