Why does our approved affordable housing take so long?
Written by Michael Lewis on August 1, 2017
A report issued quietly Friday should startle anyone who cares about Miami-Dade’s future.
In that report, Mayor Carlos Giménez details affordable housing completions and lists projects stuck in the pipeline from April 1 to June 30. It shows that the county provided financial aid to exactly one completed affordable housing development in the three months totaling 84 rental units at a cost from county funds of $1.75 million.
That’s it, a total addition of 84 units in three months. While that trails recent quarters, which averaged 120 units, it’s not terribly far behind – it’s just terribly far behind this community’s need.
By way of perspective, the 92-story One Bayfront Plaza downtown, which just cleared another hurdle for approval, would add upscale housing equal to a three-year output of affordable housing. Which do we need more?
As the business and civic communities call for more affordable housing for a growing population with a large bulge at the lower end of the income scale, county government has been working to provide that housing – and indeed has nearly $128 million from six funding sources available right now, money committed to 42 housing projects promising 4,613 needed affordable housing units.
The problem is, there’s always a long line of such funded projects in the pipeline that take an even longer time to get out and into use.
Each of the mayor’s affordable housing reports has shown 40-some projects pending and at most one or two projects finished each quarter. At that pace, the 40-some projects will flow out over a 10-year period – 400 to 500 units yearly.
That pace is pitifully slow.
It’s not like this county is uniformly well-to-do. While the world sees us as a magnet for the super-wealthy and Art Basel shows off that crowd every year to reinforce the image, for every person who shops at the luxury Design District, 1,000 can’t and probably hundreds need affordable housing.
The United Way’s study of hardship this year makes it clear: 21% of our households are in poverty, 37% more are asset-limited, income-constrained but employed, and only 42% are above both levels. That’s 179,084 households at or below poverty and 400 or so new housing units for them coming on line each year with county aid – a bit more than one new unit yearly for each 5,000 poverty-level families.
Even for those 314,401 households above the poverty line, the United Way report says the mid-range group, the income-constrained, can spend on housing only $745 a month for a single adult or $1,162 for a family of four with two small children.
And all we pump out with county aid is 400 or so affordable units yearly.
Even worse is that public reports linked 12 named developers of affordable housing who have county contracts with a federal investigation whose purpose has yet to be disclosed.
While that probing might never convict anyone of anything – and might not even result in a single charge – it’s sure to deter those 12 developers and others from dealing with the county.
The concern is that developers who are pure as the driven snow will shun county-funded affordable housing and that those with projects in the pipeline now – we see names from the reported probe list – may be slowed on already-approved housing that we sorely need quickly.
Progress reports on seven projects on the mayor’s list include something like “Developer is waiting for cost certification to be able to submit for final payment.” Is it likely that costs will be easily certified when a federal investigation is pending over exactly what are legitimate costs? Expect even further delays and longer red tape.
Affordable housing is complex. Projects that come with government funding and aid come with many hurdles. And government itself is obligated to maximize the value of public monies.
We don’t question safeguards. What we question is why even with full safeguards more housing is not being produced and occupied by those who need it most.
If we were talking about luxury apartments and condos we’d be talking about additions of housing 50 or so times as large as we provide in affordable housing – in boom years more than 50 times.
Our question to the mayor and commissioners: why are 40-some projects with nearly 5,000 needed units backlogged all the time? What can be done today to speed the flow?
Equally important: what steps should the county be taking to be certain that whatever federal investigation really hangs over our heads doesn’t block the pipeline?
The mayor has offered a solid report of where we stand. The next report needs to tell us what the county is going to do – and do now – to get more affordable housing to those who most need it.