Amy Sancetta AP file/2009; courtesy of The Miami Herald

24 Jan HOUSING & AFFORDABILITY: HOW CAN WE ENSURE THE MOST VULNERABLE OF OUR COMMUNITY ARE TAKEN CARE OF?

The Our Miami Report is a biennial civic indicators report that provides a community snapshot of eight quality of life issues shaping life in Greater Miami. We approached local leaders working on these issues to provide additional context to the data, trends and stories behind the report. Here, Shekeria Brown, executive director of South Florida Community Development Coalition, weighs in on housing and affordability.

Imagine having to decide between buying groceries, your medication or other basic needs because pretty much all of your modest income has been consumed by putting a roof over your head and getting to and from work. This is the reality for many of our neighbors.

People throughout Miami-Dade County are greatly impacted by affordable housing – or the lack of it – on a daily basis. The numbers in the 2016 Our Miami Report speak for themselves: median income in Miami-Dade County is just over $43,000, and 20 percent of our residents live below the poverty line. Income has increased very little from previous years and is significantly lower than other major metro areas in the United States. Yet, housing costs continue to increase, creating some of the most cost-burdened households in the country, right here in Miami-Dade. Almost 67 percent of Miami-Dade County renters are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing and another 22 percent on transportation costs.

When you take into account that Miami’s economy is more robust than ever, how could there be such a vast gap between equitable distribution of that prosperity? The urgency to do something about our affordability crisis has increased with each resident’s story, business owner’s challenge to recruit employees, and commuter’s extended travel time to work. Organizations such as South Florida Community Development Coalition, Miami Homes for All, and People Acting for Community Together (PACT) work to educate and advocate on what can and should be done. Last year, Florida International University and the University of Miami formed the South Florida Housing Studies Consortium to provide research support for data-driven housing strategies, including the Miami Affordability Project (MAP). The Community Scholars in Affordable Housing program, a 2015 Accelerator Grants recipient from The Miami Foundation, continues to cultivate affordable housing leadership and viable solutions. Several of our elected officials have responded to the urgency and championed legislation and programs promoting prosperity and affordability. And many more people and organizations have answered the call to step up and take action.

Developing a comprehensive approach
There is no one solution to making Miami-Dade more affordable, therefore, having a variety of tools and ensuring existing resources are being used effectively to develop and preserve affordable housing is critical. The solution must be cross-sector, including the business community, infrastructure entities that support the production of affordable housing and other sectors. While there is no denying that middle-income households need access to housing they can afford, the greatest need for remains among low-income households. They have the least amount of safe, decent places to live, and as we struggle to produce new affordable units, we face the loss of thousands of government subsidized units of affordable rentals due to expiring contracts.

Economic opportunity and access
Lower income households need access to economic opportunity, training and higher paying jobs, and small businesses also need support. While encouraging to see economic development and transportation improvements, housing must remain central to the conversation, planning and implementation to ensure equitable progress. To help with this, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided communities across the country, including Miami-Dade County, with new guidance and tools to assess affordable housing and community revitalization investments.

Legislation
The future of our Miami depends on what we do today. A revolving number of legislative items and/or programs pertaining to transit-oriented development, community land trusts and homebuyer loans were introduced in 2016. In September, Miami-Dade County commissioners and Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez committed general revenue, up to $10 million, to the county’s affordable housing trust fund. At the municipal level, last October, the city of Miami adopted a reduction in parking requirements for smaller buildings and is exploring opportunities to increase the production of affordable housing. Other cities are leading their own efforts.

Civic engagement
What we do today must be coordinated, comprehensive and equitable. The White House recently released a housing development toolkit, acknowledging that the adoption and implementation of the tools needs to happen at the local level. Equity has a greater chance to be achieved when incorporated upfront. This is the time to come together to ensure the people who work here, can afford to live here in safe, quality housing and are connected to economic opportunities. We must ensure the most vulnerable of our community are taken care of.

Shekeria Brown, AICP, is executive director of South Florida Community Development Coalition.

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