Developers plan affordable housing in northwest Miami-Dade
By Samantha Joseph
At least two developers are taking advantage of a county program that offers investment incentives to companies creating affordable housing in Liberty City and northwest Miami-Dade.
Within two years, Pinnacle Housing Group and the Cornerstone Group plan to build more than 500 apartments in three separate projects along Northwest 79th Street, a part of Miami that they say is known more for rundown trailer parks than attractive real estate.
"The nicest building on 79th Street is a pawn shop," said Nola Castillo, president of Cornerstone Residential Management. "That tells you a lot about the area."
Liberty City has a population of about 50,800 whose median household income is about $22,072 a year. Crime in the neighborhood is high and real estate values are low, with typical homes worth about $109,610, according to data from the US Census.
But despite the apparent odds against real estate development, Cornerstone and Pinnacle say pent-up demand for quality affordable housing - and millions of dollars from the county's surtax fund - make the area an attractive investment option.
"This is a main corridor to Interstate 95 and the beaches," Ms. Castillo said. "It's a shame that it's been overlooked for so many years."
Last summer, Cornerstone completed Hibiscus Pointe on a 9-acre site at 1320 NW 79th St. It was one of the first companies to build new housing in the area, where most homes are about 32 years old.
To make way for the $18 million development, Cornerstone cleared a nearly vacant and dilapidated trailer park. Within months of completing the construction, it had selected from a pool of about 2,000 inquirers and rented Hibiscus' 212 apartments at rates ranging from $542-$752 per month
"We knew there was a demand for affordable housing in that neighborhood," Ms. Castillo said.
In about a year, the company plans to build a 148-apartment complex about one mile away from Hibiscus Pointe to offer similar low-income housing.
About 10 blocks west, on 77th Street and 22nd Avenue, Pinnacle has earmarked a vacant 6-acre plot, the former site of a day-care center, for an $18 million development that will bring about 144 apartments to Liberty City.
"We're targeting working families that are living in substandard housing in the area," said Pinnacle president Michael Wohl.
The apartments are due to be ready by mid-2006, with monthly rents set to range from $606 to $700 for two- and three-bedroom units.
To encourage low-priced housing, the county awards millions in fee waivers. Miami-Dade Housing Agency contributed $8 million to Cornerstone's and Pinnacle's developments.
"Our infill housing program is providing needed housing," said agency spokeswoman Sherra McLeod. "This program recycles abandoned lots into new affordable homes and has served as a catalyst for servicing the county's demand to create affordable housing and homeownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income families."
In Miami, the need is especially great, according to the community development department, which says that in the last decade the city lost over 2,600 apartments as developers demolished low-income housing to make room for luxury developments.
Nearly half of all households in the city spend more than 30% of their income on housing, officials say.
Pinnacle and Cornerstone say their developments offer low-cost housing and dramatic improvement over most of the properties in the area. Their developments include swimming pools, computer labs, garbage disposals, gazebos and playgrounds.
Ms. Castillo said Cornerstone would go a step further to offer career counseling and homeownership incentives to residents.
"What was here before was very negative," she said. "Now, everything's brand new. It's just a different world."