HUD pushes county to streamline affordable housing
By Tom Harlan
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development is encouraging Miami-Dade County to streamline its approval process for housing projects for low- and middle-income families.
Federal officials cannot control rising construction costs, land costs or demand factors that drive up property prices, said the department's Armando Fana, but can encourage local governments to remove regulatory barriers that can increase the cost of building units by up to 35%.
The findings are part of a February department report that updated regulatory barriers affecting affordable-housing ownership.
Impact fees, required of developers as a precondition to approval of projects, and costs to comply with rehabilitation codes can add up, he said, and prevent developers from being able to sell units at a profitable price to low-income workers and middle-income professionals.
"It's a burdensome process developers have to go through in many cases to develop a property," said Mr. Fana, director of the department's Miami field office, adding that every dollar spent is priced into housing costs.
Mr. Fana spoke Monday at the Urban Development Conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Developers building larger-scale projects of about 100 units are more likely to find the process rewarding, said Philip Blumberg, CEO of American Ventures Corp., which provides funds for developers who build workforce housing projects for middle-income residents.
But developers building smaller projects of about 10 units may find the incentives not worth the time it takes to deal with bureaucracy and other issues, he said.
Environmental reviews are sometimes duplicated at local and federal levels, leading to long waits, Mr. Fana said, adding that the regulatory agency is requesting input from developers and program partners to streamline its processes.
"They have requirements that are more burdensome than even the banks," said developer Salomon Yuken, who has built several affordable-housing units in the area
Banks have a single representative who reviews applications, Mr. Yuken said Tuesday, but government regulation requires projects to be reviewed by different officials, delaying affordable-housing projects for six to eight months longer than other projects.
Regulations are needed but to a certain degree, said Armando J. Bucelo Jr., a Coral Gables attorney and member of the board of directors of the National Housing Development Corp., a non-profit behind more than 3,400 residences throughout the US. The corporation is creating affordable housing for about 140 local families through subsidy NHDC Barcelona Inc.
National Housing Development officials met with HUD and explained that they were willing to stick to all regulations, Mr. Bucelo said, but wanted to find flexibility within the system to prevent construction delays.
HUD worked with city and county leaders to find ways to help the Barcelona group cut through bureaucracy, he said, to bring two affordable housing projects to the community.
Barcelona Condominiums, a $15 million complex at 2217 NW Seventh St. in Allapattah, and Latin Q Tower, a $14 million mixed-use project at 420 SW 12th Ave., are under construction.
"We are in dire need of affordable housing in Miami-Dade County," he said. "We can't have any entity delay us."
Miami-Dade County has made great strides to form agreements among departments to approve applications quicker, Mr. Fana said, but the process is not yet a one-stop process employed in other cities.
"The one-stop approach is the one that we are looking to see implemented in more areas," Mr. Fana said. "The cost of housing is increasing so dramatically, it's going to take a combination of measures to keep affordable housing affordable for working families."