By John Dorschner
With traffic nightmares, soaring housing prices and workers desperate to live closer to their jobs, some are beginning to wonder why community redevelopment agencies (CRAs) aren't being used more to fund affordable housing.
You know -- those CRAs that popped up recently as the way to bail out the Frost Museum of Science because enough wealthy donors haven't come forward to complete construction -- a funding suggestion that many are now disputing because of so many pressing other needs, particularly affordable housing.
Ralph Rosado, who heads an urban planning firm and teaches college courses on housing issues, says, "There is a huge need for more affordably priced housing in our community, even for residents making above-median wages. ...
"A Bitter Pill to Swallow
"I understand that it's a bitter pill to swallow," Rosado continued, "but I think prominent private firms and individual philanthropists can, should and will step up to the plate and provide the gap funding needed to finish the Science Museum."
A recent Miami-Dade Grand Jury report noted: "We found it perplexing that there are CRAs with low and moderate income affordable housing needs within their boundaries that have not taken any steps to address the need."
Commission Committee to Look at Overtown
On Thursday [Feb 11] County Commissioner Xavier Suarez has scheduled a discussion item for a committee meeting "regarding the Overtown CRA and government-owned properties that can be conveyed to the CRA to build affordable housing."
Affordable housing is a huge need in Miami-Dade. Lack of housing near major work areas is a leading reason why traffic has gotten so bad.
Federal guidelines suggest that households should pay no more than 30 percent of income for housing. According to a recent report from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida, 495,000 Miami-Dade households were paying more than that for housing.
CRAs were created to "address issues of slum, blight and the shortage of affordable housing," according to the Grand Jury report.
Omni CRA Already Supporting Billionaire Perez
The OMNI CRA has already been paying for several pet projects of affluent arts patrons, including the Perez Art Museum and the Arsht Center.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is now advocating that it be used to pay $45 million to pay for a shortfall in the Frost Museum of Science, named after billionaire Phillip Frost, because enough donors couldn't be found to complete construction.
Rosado, the urban planner: "I am not sure that anyone truly believes that this is the best use of CRA funds, and I agree. I believe that affordable housing, mixed-income housing (combining income-restricted units with market-rate units, in the same project), business-focused investments (such as providing business incubator space for residents of Overtown and other Miami neighborhoods) are each a better use of CRA funds.
Miami Least Affordable in Nation
Rosado cited the national Center for Neighborhood Technology, which he said reports "the Miami-Ft Lauderdale region remains the least affordable major metro in the nation, when our median wages, median housing prices, and median transportation costs (car ownership + gas + auto insurance) are taken into consideration. Housing creation in neighborhoods such as Overtown that are well-served by transit helps address this affordability challenge."
The Overtown CRA has helped pay, among other things, for affordable housing, such as $7.5 million for the Courtside Family Apartments.
Rosado: "I taught a course at FIU in the fall, and we had SEOPW [Southeast Overtown Park West CRA] Exec Director Clarence Woods speak to the class in late November. He presented a PowerPoint indicating over two dozen projects (some private, some public, some nonprofit, some a combination of these) at some stage of development in the area. Some good work is being done, much more than occurred for many years."
Suarez Seeking Housing in Overtown
Commissioner Suarez's idea is to extend this work by seeing if government owned properties could be used for affordable housing development. His planned discussion Thursday, before the Economic Prosperity Committee in commission chambers, will also include a survey of affordable housing projects in the Overtown area.
Suarez and Commissioner Barbara Jordan have both discussed proposing resolutions to require large developers to pay for some affordable housing units when they build upscale projects. This concept -- sometimes called inclusionary zoning -- has already been embraced by more than 500 municipalities across the nation.
But in Miami-Dade, Suarez acknowledged recently, the concept may not have enough votes on the commission. Developers groups are adamantly opposed to it.
Meanwhile, The Miami Herald recently mentioned the word inclusionary -- a word used frequently in this blog -- in a housing news story for the first time in seven years, quoting County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro: "We're looking at proposals for inclusionary development."