Moves for Affordable Housing

By John Dorschner

    Ever so slowly, the county commission is moving toward considering measures about inclusionary housing -- a wonkish concept that could have huge implications to increasing the number of affordable residences as well as reducing Miami's horrendous traffic jams.
    At a committee meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava
Daniella Levine Cava
said she too is preparing a resolution about getting developers to contribute to affordable housing when they build other projects. She said her proposal, "being vetted right now in the county attorney's office," proposes a six-month pilot project for the mayor to see if the idea is viable.
    Her proposal is the third from a commissioner to deal with the issue that has been bubbling for least four months without any resolution being presented.
    On July 31, Xavier Suarez sent a letter to Commission Chair Jean Monestine suggesting the need for a plan to get more affordable housing.
    On Aug. 27, Barbara Jordan said in a committee meeting that she too was preparing a plan, and Suarez said he'd wait until her resolution was prepared before seeing if his own was still necessary.
    Since then, three months have gone by, and nothing has happened -- at least publicly.
Xavier Suarez
Since commissioners cannot talk to each other privately because of the state's Sunshine Law, Suarez on Thursday used a meeting of the economic prosperity committee to ask publicly where Jordan's motion stood.
    Jordan wasn't present, but Terrence A. Smith, assistant county attorney, said his office was crafting a resolution for her that would make it make mandatory for developers to contribute to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund -- which remains tiny because at present developer contributions are voluntary.
    "I can't give a definitive date," Smith said. "We're pretty close."
Terrence Smith

    Exasperated, Suarez responded: "I will wait only so long before I move with my procedure."
    The concept of inclusionary housing, in various permutations of mandatory or voluntary, tries to ensure that major developers will help pay for affordable units while building the upscale projects like those soaring along the Miami waterfront.
     The needs for the units are huge. About 495,000 households in Miami-Dade spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida. Federal guidelines say that's too much for poor or median income families.
    The worst off are 121,390 poorer Dade renters -- those earning less than 60 percent of average median income -- who paid more than 40 percent of their income for housing in 2013, according to the Shimberg Center. That leaves precious little for food, utilities and other necessities.

                  New Study Shows Big Benefits

  A recent study by Lincoln Institute of Land Policy showed that inclusionary housing can bring huge benefits for places like Miami. About  500 local governments throughout the United States are already using the system in one form or another. The report on the Lincoln study is available HERE.
        New Urbanists believe firmly that inclusionary housing will help not only the working class but also be a major step in reducing traffic by allowing workers to live nearer their jobs.
         In July, Suarez suggested charging a linkage fee in which large developers  -- those building structures of over 100,000 square feet -- pay $7.50 per square foot into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The county would pony up another $50 million from its general fund.
    In the August committee meeting, Jordan said commissioners should procede carefully.   In 2007, she advocated an ordinance requiring developers to pay into a trust fund. Developers, who are major campaign contributors, objected fiercely, and the trust fund was made voluntary. After eight years, it has $2 million.

                          Developers Oppose Mandatory

   On Thursday, Truly Burton, executive vice president of the powerful Builders Association of South Florida, told the committee: "The organization opposes mandatory requirements."
    But she acknowledged that the voluntary program has not worked, partly because of the construction recession and partly because the incentives were not enough for contributions.
    She said she had passed along to Jordan suggestions for incentives in which developers, by contributing to the affordable fund, could get trade-offs such as increased density, perhaps lower property taxes and perhaps a waiving of impact fees.
    Several advocates for affordable housing spoke to the committee strongly urging action for mandatory inclusionary housing and/or linkage programs.
    Denis Russ, speaking for People Acting in Community Together, which represents 50,000 members of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious groups, told commissioners: "We salute you for  your work in advancing in affordable housing trust funds."
Shekeria Brown
Shekeria Brown, executive director of the South Florida Community Development Coalition, said her 85 members strongly support mandatory contributions to inclusionary housing funds, as well as linkage fees.
    Doug Mayer, president of Stone Soup Development, said he applauded the effort to expand affordable housing.
    Fred Stock, chief executive of Jewish Community Services of South Florida, said there was a desperate need for affordable housing. He suggested forming a blue ribbon task force of business, government and human services leaders to unite in ways to solve the problem.
    But an early indication of possible political problems came when Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said she was concerned about affordable housing being forced on a neighborhood without its approval.
    Suarez referred to Jordan as "adorable colleague," but was getting impatient with delays. "We'll get these things going in the early part of next year. We just can't wait any longer."
    An earlier story, on the views of Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, former dean of the UM school of architecture, is available HERE.

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