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Miami Herald - November 14, 2005
Governments set to discuss laws to address housing crisis
Local governments are poised to begin debating proposed laws aimed at affordable housing.
BY LISA ARTHUR AND MATTHEW HAGGMAN
A week after Hurricane Wilma battered South Florida, Eric Joiner found
himself homeless; inspectors tagged his Overtown apartment complex
unsafe. The 30-year-old bus driver, his girlfriend and four children
crowded into a motel room paid for by the city of Miami -- government's
quick fix to a crisis.
Now bunking with friends, the Joiners still haven't found a place to
live. ''There isn't much out there I can afford,'' said Joiner, who
earns $10.70 an hour and paid $525 a month in rent.
There are thousands like Eric Joiner in South Florida.
Hurricane Wilma's punishing slap across the region -- in the midst of a
real estate boom that has driven home prices to record highs -- exposed
the perils of old, unsafe housing and the looming crisis that local
governments' own studies had predicted: South Florida's low- and
moderate-income residents will need more than 100,000 homes in the next
10 years -- homes thousands of workers will not be able to afford.
PUSHING FOR ACTION
Several elected officials say the situation won't improve until
government compels builders to include affordable housing in their
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners plan to consider a draft
law that would require developers to include ''workforce housing'' in
their projects to target the needs of middle-class home buyers. It
seeks to help professionals, such as teachers, police officers and
nurses, who may earn as much as $60,000 or more a year but still can't
afford to buy a home at today's prices.
Such reforms would be a good start, several affordable housing experts
say, but they caution that focusing on workforce housing without
finding solutions for low-income families like the Joiners solves one
problem on the backs of the most vulnerable.
''We have a large population of people who can't afford what the
federal guidelines define as affordable or workforce housing,'' said
Rod Petrey, director of the Miami-based Collins Center.
OPEN LAND SCARCE
Petrey and others fear that South Florida's scarcity of open land will
soon lead builders to redevelop neighborhoods in the middle corridor of
Miami-Dade and Broward, displacing the working poor. People living in
and near Liberty City, Overtown and Opa-locka in Miami-Dade and
Pembroke Park, Lauderhill and Lauderdale Lakes in Broward could be most
The concentration of poverty makes the need for so-called inclusionary
zoning laws more compelling, advocates say. Such laws, which require a
mix of housing for the poor, middle class and wealthy in new
developments, were once considered too radical for
property-rights-inclined South Florida, even though they're widely used
throughout the country.
A study conducted after Hurricane Katrina by the Brookings Institution,
a Washington-based think tank, found that the city of Miami had a
higher rate of concentrated poverty among blacks than New Orleans.
Federal guidelines say affordable housing -- rent or mortgage payments
plus utilities -- should cost a household no more than 30 percent of
their annual income. For a family of four in Miami-Dade, the median
income is $46,350; in Broward, it's $58,100.
However, Miami-Dade ranked first in the country for residents who spent
more than 30 percent of their income on rent in 2004, according to the
U.S. Census. The county ranked second for burdensome mortgage payments.
Broward County ranked 11th on rentals and 23rd on mortgages.
In Broward, the pressure has already begun to escalate, said Ben
Graber, a county commissioner.
HOUSES FOR THE RICH
''We're concerned the major corridors will be redeveloped with housing
that's too expensive,'' he said. ``Already in downtown Fort Lauderdale
we've had redevelopment that isn't even in the workforce range. It's
Some officials in Broward and in the cities of Fort Lauderdale and
Miami are preparing their own versions of inclusionary zoning laws.
On Graber's agenda: Creating a committee on ''attainable housing.'' It
would work with Broward's cities to design a law that would require
developers to include affordable housing in their projects or put money
in a trust fund. The county would reward them by letting them build
more homes or condominiums than current zoning laws permit.
''We'll work with developers, but the goal is not a voluntary
program,'' he said.
Graber also advocates local tax credits for developers who build
affordable rental homes and apartments for residents caught in the gap
between poverty incomes, which trigger federal housing subsidies, and
In Miami-Dade, the proposed law would apply to most developments built
on land in unincorporated areas. It would require developers to include
workforce housing in any new projects. Or developers could seek to pay
into an affordable housing trust fund. Another option: Developers could
build affordable units on another site in the same neighborhood.
Affordable housing advocates hope Wilma's aftermath will spur political
action that goes beyond quick fixes.
''Wilma exposed the pending crisis and exacerbated it,'' said Jerry
Kolo, professor of urban planning at Florida Atlantic University. ``In
five years, it won't be a pending crisis. It will be here. We need to
do something now.''
A Broward study showed the county needs 15,000 new affordable units a
year to keep pace with demand. A Miami-Dade study, based on the 2000
U.S. Census, found the county needs an additional 81,400 housing units
for very low- and middle-income residents between 2000 and 2015.
Between 2015 and 2025, the region will need an additional 107,240
affordable units. Even though federal and state governments have long
provided tax incentives to encourage developers to build housing for
the poor, money to build low-income housing has not kept up with the
growing need. Long waiting lists for federal housing vouchers persist.
State government, meanwhile, has diverted millions of dollars from its
affordable housing trust fund to other projects.
''The reality is if we don't change our way of thinking, we will be in
the same situation as the Florida Keys, where they have to import a
workforce,'' said Barbara Jordan, the Miami-Dade commissioner who
shepherded the proposed workforce housing law.
Home builders prefer a voluntary program, said Andrew Dolkart, co-chair
of the county's affordable housing task force and a real estate
consultant who counts developers among his clients. So far, home
builders have not come out against Jordan's proposal, but Dolkart
acknowledged resistance might come.
Objections also could come from communities that don't want affordable
housing nearby, fearing property values will fall -- the so-called
NIMBY effect, meaning ``not in my backyard.''
Those perceptions have been overcome in other places, said Rebecca
Sohmer, a Brookings analyst.
She points to Montgomery County, a Washington, D.C., suburb in
Maryland, where zoning laws require that new developments have a mix of
housing for the poor, middle class and wealthy.
''I'm sure they had issues in Montgomery County,'' Sohmer said, ``but
they've shown people that living next to poor neighbors doesn't bring
down housing values. Bad neighborhoods and concentrated poverty do
Herald staff writer Audra D.S. Burch contributed to this report.