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Miami Herald - November 5, 2005

Displaced in 'crisis' of affordable housing

In a region that is in the midst of a historic building boom, there is no place for thousands of displaced people to go. There is nothing they can afford.


For the thousands of residents forced from their homes because they are unsafe, South Florida's red-hot housing market offers nowhere to turn. Virtually none of the new housing is for low- or moderate-income people.

In some cases, affordable housing was leveled to make way for million-dollar condos.

Housing agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties say they have a huge backlog of people -- 40,000 in Miami-Dade alone -- looking for subsidized housing or federal vouchers that can be used to rent privately owned apartment units.

In Broward, the wait for public housing is a year.

And that was before Wilma rendered more than 13,000 units of mostly low- and moderate-income residents at least temporarily uninhabitable.

Private developers of affordable housing -- generally units that rent for less than $750 a month -- can't help much. Pinnacle Housing Group in Miami, which builds throughout South Florida, said its 1,200 units are nearly 100 percent rented, and there is a two-year waiting list.

Over the past year, as home prices have skyrocketed, housing advocates, civic leaders and politicians have become increasingly concerned about the lack of homes and apartments affordable for families who earn the median income -- which, for a family of four, translates to $46,350 in Miami-Dade and $58,100 in Broward.

Wilma is now bringing the lack of affordable housing into sharper focus because the majority of units made unlivable are in poorer neighborhoods.


''This is an acute manifestation of the crisis that is going on every day in this community,'' said Maria Pellerin Barcus, president and chief executive of Carrfour Supportive Housing, which builds affordable housing for the homeless.

``The bottom line is that there is not enough to go around, and we have a shrinking supply of housing affordable to low-income people. We are playing a losing game of musical chairs.''

For now, public officials are saying the only places to turn are the Red Cross and the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

''FEMA and the Red Cross are all there really is right now,'' said Ann Deibert, deputy director of the Broward County Housing Authority. ``That is where people should look. There really is no place else for them to go.''

The demand for affordable housing is now so great that Louis Wolfson III, a partner at Pinnacle Housing, predicted that 50,000 rental units priced for people earning between $18,000 and $50,000 a year in Miami-Dade and Broward counties would fill up in one week.


The shortage of affordable housing comes in the midst of a historic building boom. But the vast majority of the high-rise condos reshaping the downtown skylines of Miami and Fort Lauderdale are built for the wealthy. Developers contend that they have little choice, short of government subsidies or incentives, because land prices and the cost of construction have soared.

Meanwhile, prices of existing homes have raced up to record levels, hitting $379,400 in Broward and $371,200 in Miami-Dade in September -- 30 percent and 28 percent higher, respectively, than last year.

This increase in home prices has pushed rents up as well. In Broward, a Department of Housing and Urban Development analysis of rent costs put the average two-bedroom home at $998 a month, up nearly 40 percent from 2001. In Miami-Dade, the $929 monthly cost of a two-bedroom place has risen about 29 percent. Most real estate analysts believe that HUD's methods understate real market rents.


In addition, the supply of rentals has shrunk dramatically as developers seek to convert an unprecedented number of apartments into condos to take advantage of the demand for home ownership while interest rates remain low.

''Since everything is being converted, the inventory has tightened significantly,'' said Jay H. Massirman, vice chairman of CB Richard Ellis, among the leading brokerages selling rental apartments. ``And the rising land and construction have turned the spigot off for moderate and affordable rental housing. We are left with a crisis.''