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Miami Herald - Dec 21, 2016

Developers in Miami-Dade won’t be forced to set aside units for families making less than $100K

By Douglas Hanks

Miami-Dade developers won’t be forced to build housing that’s affordable for people making less than $100,000 a year after county commissioners on Tuesday rejected legislation establishing a mandatory workforce-housing program.

Facing opposition from the building industry, sponsor Barbara Jordan withdrew her proposal after a majority of fellow commissioners voted against it in a non-binding straw ballot. She then won unanimous support to convert her legislation to a voluntary proposal, where developers could choose to follow the workforce-housing rules in exchange for looser density requirements on their projects.

Miami-Dade already created a voluntary program in 2007, and Jordan said it hasn’t produced any workforce housing. She argued the requirements in her 2016 bill were Miami-Dade’s best chance to reverse a tide of increasingly expensive housing in one of the country’s most sought-after real estate markets.


"This needs to be this commission’s legacy," Jordan said before the straw vote, which failed 5 to 7. "We need to respond to the needs of the entire community. And not just the luxurious few in terms of development."

Builders argued Miami-Dade offers affordable housing, with lower-priced units spread throughout the urban areas and in more remote suburbs. But statistics consistently show Miami-Dade is one of the harshest housing markets in terms of affordability, with the price of a place to live representing an unusually high portion of income.

A recent report from the Center for Housing Policy in Washington found 40 percent of working households in Miami-Dade devote at least half of their earnings to housing. That tied for first with Los Angeles among the country’s largest metropolitan areas.

Industry representatives did not speak at Tuesday’s commission meeting, since public comments aren’t generally allowed before a bill’s final vote. Commissioners opposed to Jordan’s plan warned it would increase the cost of housing once developers passed on the cost of under-priced workforce units to the rest of the market.

"Others are going to be paying for this," said Esteban "Steve" Bovo, the commission’s incoming chairman. "It’s not going to be the developers."

Jordan’s original bill would have required developers of new projects with at least 20 units to reserve between 5 and 10 percent of their inventory for "workforce" buyers — those who make too much to qualify for affordable-housing subsidies, but not enough to afford the higher end of real estate values. Assuming a family of four, that would mean buyers earning between $42,600 and $99,400 a year.

Developers could only sell their workforce units to buyers in that income range, and would receive a density bonus — permission to build more units — of up to 25 percent. Developers could also pay fees into a workforce-housing fund if they didn’t want to build the mandated units. While the law would apply countywide, cities could opt out if they developed their own workforce programs or could demonstrate their communities didn’t face a housing problem.

Joining Jordan on the Yes side in the straw poll for the mandatory program were commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Chairman Jean Monestime, Dennis Moss, and Xavier Suarez. Audrey Edmonson did not attend the meeting. Joining Bovo in the No column were Bruno Barreiro, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Sally Heyman, Joe Martinez, Rebeca Sosa and Javier Souto.

"Social engineering is very dangerous," Souto said. "This is like handling explosives. You make a mistake, you blow your head off."

After the vote, Jordan said she thought the beefed-up density bonuses could spur some developers to actually join the county’s voluntary program under the new rules. "I think the incentives are so tremendous that the development community probably will be a little more energetic," she said. But Jordan also said she plans to revisit the topic in two years, with the possibility for another mandatory bill if developers aren’t using the voluntary program.