New restriction boxes in experimental container home
Even with construction and landscaping done and every fixture and utility installed, an affordable housing project in which a shipping container was converted into a tiny home in South Miami is still hitting snags.
The latest obstacle: an unaccounted-for restriction on part of the building site that could require further downsizing of the project.
As the city, Miami-Dade County and group behind the project iron out the details, the house at 6180 SW 63rd Terr. remains unoccupied.
“It’s been finished for three months,” said Danielle Blake, chief of public policy for the Miami Association of Realtors. “It’s just sitting there.”
The problem now has to do with what in zoning terms is called a dedication, the setting-aside of a piece of property, usually alongside a road, sidewalk or other public right-of-way, so that it can be used in the future without requiring a government to exercise eminent domain.
Since late October, Ms. Blake, her team and the general contractor working on the project have been trying to address a 10-foot dedication that hadn’t been calculated into the site plan by anyone – not the association, the contractor, the initial survey of the property, the city, county or the now-defunct community redevelopment agency that helped back the project.
The dedication was listed on the Miami-Dade property appraiser’s website – the county acquired the land in 1978 but in 2015 designated it as surplus – but the 10 feet hadn’t been subtracted from the land’s square footage.
Miami-Dade commissioners in November 2018 narrowly approved giving the group the previously undevelopable 3,200-square-foot parcel, which the county designated as surplus three years prior.
In exchange, Miami Realtors agreed to several conditions, including that it would sell the finished home within two years to a buyer who earns 80% of the area median income either at cost or for $205,000.
In early December, commissioners gave the group another six months to sell the property.
Miami Realtors also agreed to provide whoever bought the 480-square-foot container home and the nonconforming parcel upon which it was built with mortgage assistance.
After nearly two years of development by Miami-basd Cobo Construction and Little River Box Co. that ran into several unforeseen issues, including having to tear up the abutting roadway to connect the home to the sewer system and slowdowns due to the pandemic, a second survey of the site caught the dedication oversight.
The conundrum halted further progress until the reason for the dedication could be determined. With an extra 10 feet subtracted from one side of the property, the project footprint could suddenly shrink to 2,800 square feet, 400 square feet fewer than what was designed for and built upon.
Since early November, Miami Realtors has pursued two potential solutions. One would see the group resize the project to fit the smaller footprint. The other would be for the county to vacate the 10 feet to allow the project to be finalized.
“It’s been frustrating,” Ms. Blake said Friday. “I just want to be done with this project.”
Later that day, things grew more complicated. The 10-foot dedication, the county said, was an error and did not need to be accounted for; however, the county said, the property was earmarked for another dedication of 25 feet for the future construction of a roadside curb.
The project site is made up of two lots. If the 25-foot dedication is on one lot, it’s fine.
“And if it’s on the other, it isn’t,” she said. “How much that intrudes into our property, I don’t know the answer to that. We’ll know in a few weeks.”
The home, now finished, makes optimum use of its confining space. The den, dining and kitchen area takes up roughly half of the square footage, with a modestly sized bedroom, bathroom and walk-in closet comprising the remainder.
According to plans provided by Miami Realtors, the structure is built to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.
“It’s the last container home we’ll build,” Miami Realtors CEO Teresa King Kinney told Miami Today in September. “With Miami being one of the biggest ports in the world, a lot of containers dead-end here, and container homes qualify beautifully for hurricane-rated.”
The project is one of 70 undertakings the group funded with a “mega-grant” it received in 2016 from the National Association of Realtors, Ms. Kinney said, and it was “by far the biggest” of the bunch.
County commissioners were nearly split on whether to approve the project, first sponsored by Xavier Suarez and later taken up by his successor representing District 6, Raquel Regalado, who successfully backed an item to extend the group’s deadline to sell the project to early May.
Before voting 7-5 to approve the project with amendments Nov. 8, 2018, the commission debated over it for 90-plus minutes.
Sally Heyman, Eileen Higgins, Barbara Jordan, Daniella Levine Cava, Jean Monestime, Dennis Moss and Mr. Suarez voted yes. Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Audrey Edmonson, Joe Martinez, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto voted no. Jose “Pepe” Diaz was absent.
Mr. Souto complained that the county was “giving away [the] property of the people of Miami-Dade County.” Mr. Martinez scoffed at the project’s estimated cost, $133,699, not counting $37,000 to develop the land.
“I thought it was a cartoon – $133,000 for a shed?” he said. “I didn’t believe it.”
Over several preceding years, officials in Miami-Dade had looked at micro housing as one way to address the growing divide between income and housing prices, which ballooned by 83% between 2010 and 2017, a Miami Realtors report showed.
During that same period, inflation-adjusted wages here fell 7.1% on average, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Throughout the county, more than 65% of renter households and 44% of owner-occupied homes with mortgages spend more than 30% of their collective incomes on housing costs.
Home values in Miami-Dade have increased nearly 5% over the past year through Nov. 30, according to real estate website Zillow, which predicts a 9.5% uptick in the next year.
Realtor.com shows the median price per square foot in county residences as $289. Provided the container home sells for $205,000, the cost per square foot would be $427, not accounting for mortgage assistance.