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Miami Herald - February 28, 2006


County's housing plan questioned by FIU report

As Miami-Dade County comes closer to introducing a final version of a zoning ordinance for worker housing, one group is raising concern about its direction


A new report cautions that Miami-Dade County's proposal to provide housing for middle-income workers will not help most of the people it targets.

The report, issued Monday by Florida International University's Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, said the proposal would reach only a ``very narrow segment of the workforce: upper-income households that do not have a great need for affordable housing.''

But Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan, who is pushing the housing ordinance, said the final draft is still being crafted.

''They are basing the report on a version that came out in November and there have been many iterations since then,'' said Jordan, who added she did not know the FIU group was doing a study until it was released Monday.

At issue is an ''inclusionary zoning'' ordinance proposed by Jordan in November, which would require developers in unincorporated Miami-Dade to set aside 20 percent of new homes for people earning between 65 percent and 140 percent of median income.

Miami-Dade's median income is $46,350, according to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. Median is the point at which half are below and half above.

The final proposal is expected to go before the commission in April. A vote is expected in May.

Amid South Florida's real estate boom, more and more residents are getting priced out of the market. And so affordable housing, once only an issue for low-income earners, has become a big concern for the middle class.

The report warned that under the current proposal, developers will build homes only for those at the high end of the scale, making 140 percent of the county's median income. They would have no incentive or requirement to build more affordable housing, the report said.

It also cautioned that the vast majority of people targeted under the proposal will be left out because median income varies widely in the county.

Instead, the report recommended more specific, tiered income targets. For instance, developers could be required to provide housing for those making between 65 and 80 percent of median income, between 80 percent and 110 percent and between 110 and 140 percent.

''Otherwise, it is hard to see how someone at 65, 75 or 100 percent of median income will be helped,'' said Bruce Nissen, RISEP's director, who co-authored the report with research associate Marcos Feldman.

Nissen and Feldman also said more stakeholders need to be involved in crafting the legislation, particularly worker and affordable housing groups.

Developers, Jordan's office and Miami-Dade's Department of Planning & Zoning, among others, have met regularly over the proposal. But Nissen and Feldman said they've been unable to get an audience with county leaders.

On Monday, after initially writing in December to meet with Jordan, Feldman said he finally met with the commissioner.

For her part, Jordan disputed the notion that anyone has been excluded from discussions on the ordinance.

''These meetings are open to the public,'' she said. ``And we will have a workshop on March 8 that will introduce the legislation to the community at large.''

The cost of housing is increasingly viewed as a key obstacle to economic development in South Florida. Elsewhere in the country -- for example, Montgomery County, Maryland -- inclusionary zoning has proved effective at providing housing for middle-income workers. But it has not been tried in South Florida. Other South Florida cities and counties are contemplating similar measures, but none are as far along as Miami-Dade.