Bad reputation? Miami-Dade County's affordability problem continues to vex officials

But Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and others hope better funding for housing will make a dent.

In an aerial view, single family homes are shown in a residential neighborhood on May 10, 2022 in Miami.

In an aerial view, single family homes are shown in a residential neighborhood on May 10, 2022 in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Miami is known for its fun and sun, as a gateway to Latin America, and increasingly a home for some of the country’s biggest financial powerhouses. But it’s getting another, unwanted reputation for something else: its lack of affordable housing. And Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is acutely aware of the problem. 

Her Department of Public Housing and Community Development recently held what was called a “Building Blocks” housing summit to get governmental arms around the crisis. More than 700 registered, including national and local experts in housing and community development. There also were tenants, service providers, government leaders and civic groups.

One major goal to come out of the summit: To have at least 18,000 affordable and workers’ housing units in financial closing by the end of 2023. There already are about 14,000 units under development, for a total of 32,000 additional units that will be added to housing now available. And county administration is partnering with the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement to create a real time dashboard to monitor units from planning to completion.  

The Miami-Dade County School Board also is getting involved, developing new workforce housing projects at three of the school district’s underused properties that officials there say will generate hundreds of workforce housing units for teachers. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development even recognized the ongoing partnership to build workforce housing units for teachers on county property as a best practice.

But the elemental problems remain seemingly intractable: Working people throughout South Florida face significant challenges to pay for basic expenses. Because of inflation, people are seeing higher prices at the grocery store and the gas pump. Even successful professionals are struggling to buy homes and often compete against wealthy established buyers. 

Those who want to buy a home may be competing with around ten others who can outbid them. This means they may have to look for a rental unit. And there may be around ten or more people competing for that unit so rental costs skyrocket. Finding property insurance also is a major challenge as fewer insurers offer policies in Florida and those who do charge high rates. 

Pumping in millions for housing

That’s not to say Cava is giving up. She says the county has committed up to $100 million from the Healthy Housing Foundation for affordable housing. About $5 million will go towards Cava’s Building Blocks Fund. This will increase the money available to $75 million to finance the development and preservation of affordable and workforce housing, she has said. The Building Blocks Fund is designed to bring together private and nonprofit fund providers to finance the development of affordable and workforce housing. 

Miami-Dade has secured $55 million in external commitments from seven separate funding providers to build affordable housing over the next three years. Also, the County’s Public Housing and Community Development Department will join this fund with an investment of $15 million to help people purchase homes, according to Natalia Jaramillo, Cava’s spokesperson.

“Miami-Dade is at the forefront of the affordability crisis as one of the most expensive regions in the country – but through our collective work, we are putting it at the forefront of housing solutions with cutting edge innovations and new partnerships to meet the housing needs of our residents and lead the way nationwide,” Cava said in a statement. “Seeing leaders from across sectors come together to work side-by-side on solutions gives me renewed hope that together, we will build a more equitable Miami-Dade where all people can afford to live, work and thrive.” 

The summit was held soon after Cava declared an affordability crisis in April and announced the launch of the Building Blocks program to increase the housing supply and strengthen resident protections. Since then, the mayor has expanded the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to cover rent increases, signed the county’s first Tenant Bill of Rights, and officially opened the Office of Housing Advocacy. 

Also, Cava met with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge on her first official visit to Miami-Dade. The secretary toured several affordable housing development projects owned or funded by Miami-Dade County.

High rents, low supply

A report by RentCafe found that Miami-Dade County was the most competitive rental market in the United States for the first four months of 2022. The report found the market to be the highest among the top 20 markets because of its high occupancy rate, low supply and very high lease renewal rates.

A group of researchers from Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Alabama worked together to create the Waller Weeks & Johnson Rental Index. They found renters are paying far more now, based on past trends and individual markets. The area defined as Metro Miami was the nation’s most overvalued rental market in May for the third consecutive month. Miami renters were paying a premium of nearly 23% as the area saw a year-over-year increase at 31%. 

For the area that cultural pundit Joel Stein called, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “the most important city in America,” the stakes remain high. Ken Johnson, an economist in Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business, explained that “the Fed’s interest rate increase will price more people out of the housing market and keep them as renters – and as long as the demand for renting remains high, rental rates almost certainly will stay elevated as well.”

David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers city government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.

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