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This housing affordability backgrounder was prepared for the 100 Great Ideas campaign on Housing Affordability that took place in November 2017. For more details about that campaign, please visit www.radical.partners/100greatideashousing.

100 Great Ideas is a massive community brainstorm where we rally the community to produce solutions to important regional issues. We then synthesize the trends and engage local leaders in implementing top ideas. 

Thank you to our generous sponsor, JPMorgan Chase & Co, for partnering with us to launch this campaign. 

This backgrounder is also available in Spanish and in Haitian Creole

Backgrounder: Housing Affordability


South Florida is one of the most unaffordable places to live in the entire country - and unfortunately, few new affordable units are being built and we're losing the affordable units we already have.

How did this situation come to be? Building affordable units is not always lucrative for developers, and less-than-planned governmental investment into affordable housing creation and maintenance (into the Sadowski Trust Fund at the state level and into the Community Development Block Grant and HOME investment programs at the federal level) has led to an insufficient number of new units being built. Parking and zoning requirements, as well as few protections for renters, have also contributed to the problem.

So what is happening locally around this issue? While Miami-Dade County and a few municipalities have made some policy changes to address this issue, many argue that much more remains to be done.

What can you do to help tackle this challenge? Learn. Join the 100 Great Ideas Facebook Group to dialogue and suggest ideas. 


Affordable Housing: Housing that does not cost more than 30% of an individual or family's total income to rent or own.

Area Median Income (AMI): The median income for a family of four. In Miami-Dade County, AMI is $48,100.

Cost-burdened: Spending more than 30% of your income on housing (mortgage or rent).

Low-income: In Miami-Dade, defined for a four-person household as below an annual income of $56,800.

Workforce Housing: Another name for affordable housing that sounds nicer, according to Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

Mixed-Income Housing: Pretty much what it sounds like - housing that has a mix of incomes living in the same building.

Inclusionary Zoning: An ordinance that a certain percentage of units in any new construction MUST be affordable housing units. 

Transit-Oriented Development: Residential or commercial area designed to make public transportation easily accessible, e.g., affordable housing development within 1/2 mile of rapid transit.

Thanks to our friends at The New Tropic & the Miami Housing Solutions Lab for these definitions: 
http://bit.ly/TNTglossary & http://bit.ly/mhslglossary

part I. Housing Affordability in South Florida

Multiple recent analyses and reports, including a 2017 report from Harvard University, have highlighted South Florida as the most unaffordable place to live in the entire United States. 62 percent of Miami renters are "cost burdened," meaning they pay more than 30% of their income on housing.

This problem is even more dire in communities of color. In 2016, renters in South Florida's black and Hispanic communities spent about 58 percent and 55 percent, respectively, of their incomes on rent.

Source: http://www.shimberg.ufl.edu/publications/Full_RMSwcov_2016.pdf

Source: http://www.shimberg.ufl.edu/publications/Full_RMSwcov_2016.pdf

What does it take to afford rent in Miami?

A minimum-wage worker would need to work 3.1 full-time jobs in order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Miami-Dade County. A worker with only one job would need to make $24.90 per hour in order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment. 

Is the situation getting worse or better over time?

The housing affordability challenge is becoming more dire over time, as demonstrated by: 

  • An increase in cost-burdened renters: Between 2000 and 2012, there was a nearly 50% increase in the total number of cost burdened renters in Miami-Dade County, from 154,066 households in 2000 to 231,703 households in 2012, according to The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.
  • Few affordable units: Low-income renters struggle to find affordable housing: the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) reports that only 21 units are affordable and available per 100 renter households in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach region. 
  • Loss of currently available affordable units: We’re even losing the affordable units we have. The Shimberg Center for Housing Studies reports that between 1993 and 2012, Florida lost at least 51,000 rental units that were privately owned and publicly subsidized. By 2020, another 43,200 subsidized rental units could be gone.
  • Few affordable units being built: In spite of inadequate amount of affordable units, between 2014 and 2016, only 10.7% of multifamily construction in Miami was targeted at the lower third of the market.

part II. What Affects Housing Affordability?

Below are just a few causes that contribute to our housing affordability problem:

1. Building affordable units is expensive and not always financially feasible.

According to The Urban Institute, "Development costs a lot of money. Developers rely on loans and other sources to fund construction before people move in and start paying rent. But developers can only get those loans and equity sources if the development will produce enough revenue to pay back the loans and pay returns to investors. The gap between the amount a building is expected to produce from rents and the amount developers will need to pay lenders and investors can stop affordable housing development before it even begins, leaving few options for the millions of low-income families looking for safe, affordable homes."

2. The Florida state legislature has used 70% of the funding for affordable housing for tax breaks and spending. 

The State of Florida established The William E. Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund in 1992 to provide resources to develop affordable housing for the workforce, the elderly and the disabled. However, according to the Miami Herald, of the $1.87 billion collected and deposited in trust funds since the Great Recession in 2008, Florida lawmakers have diverted nearly $1.3 billion (or 70%) to other purposes such as tax breaks and spending. According to The Florida Housing Coalition, if lawmakers left the $272 million available in this fund, the projects that could be completed would bring $3.78 billion in positive economic impact into the state’s economy and 28,700 jobs.

3. We've seen a decline in federal investment in affordable housing.

Federal support for affordable housing programs has fallen drastically over the past 10 years. Specifically, federal investment in the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the HOME Investments Partnership (HOME) program fell dramatically from 2007 to 2015, as displayed in the graph to the right. For additional data, check out the official minutes from a 2015 Miami-Dade County Affordable Housing workshop.

4. Restrictive zoning laws, parking requirements, etc. limit incentives/abilities to build affordable housing. 

Zoning, parking and other local laws and policies determine the size and types of the units that can be built in different communities. Some argue that these restrictions, while often meant to protect communities, impinge upon developer's abilities to build financially viable units that meet the needs of the community. 

5. Substandard and unstable housing conditions exacerbate unaffordable housing costs.

Vulnerable poor and minority Miami renters frequently live in substandard housing conditions and have few opportunities for recourse against their landlords, a problem which further exacerbates the housing affordability problem by leading to the deterioration or complete loss of affordable rental housing. Three quarters of surveyed renters (in a 2008 study conducted by Community Justice Project and the Power U Center for Social Change) reported experiencing some type of housing problem: more than half (59%) of the residents had cockroaches and one quarter (26%) reported seeing rats or mice. Furthermore, poor and minority Miami renters lack basic legal protections. Two-thirds reported having only a month-to-month lease, a key factor in housing instability. Nearly half (48%) of those surveyed (in the above referenced study) had moved one or two times in the past five years, and over 20 percent had moved three or more times. This housing instability, in combination with the housing affordability crisis, leads to negative outcomes such as homelessness, poor health and missed educational opportunity.  


part III. What Actions Have Already Been Taken Locally?

Officials break ground for an affordable housing project in Overtown in 2015. From left: Matthew Rieger, President of the Housing Trust Group; Miami Comm. Keon Hardemon; Miami-Dade Comm. Audrey Edmonson; Alonzo Mourning; Randy Rieger, and Clarence Woods, Executive Director of the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency. Photo credit: WALTER MICHOT (Miami Herald)

Officials break ground for an affordable housing project in Overtown in 2015. From left: Matthew Rieger, President of the Housing Trust Group; Miami Comm. Keon Hardemon; Miami-Dade Comm. Audrey Edmonson; Alonzo Mourning; Randy Rieger, and Clarence Woods, Executive Director of the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency. Photo credit: WALTER MICHOT (Miami Herald)

Miami-Dade County

  • Affordable Housing Trust Fund: The Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a Miami-Dade County trust fund started in 2007 to provide financial resources for the building of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households. Last year, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to amend the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to both allocate at least $10 million to the fund and set aside 50% of that funding specifically for very low and extremely low income individuals and families. However, in 2017, the county commission allocated only $387,000 to the fund, far below what was expected. Mayor Carlos Gimenez cited Zika funding as drawing from the county’s surplus budget.
  • Voluntary Inclusionary Zoning: Miami-Dade County created a voluntary inclusionary zoning program in 2007. Commissioner Barbara Jordan introduced a proposal in 2016 to begin a mandatory program; however, insufficient support for this proposal from the rest of the commission led Commissioner Jordan to pull her the mandatory program proposal and introduce a modified voluntary program, which passed. At the time, Commissioner Jordan said she planned to revisit a mandatory bill in two years time if developers were not using the modified voluntary program.


City of Miami

  • Financial Incentives for Developers: The City of Miami Department of Community Development provides federal, state, and/or local funding to private developers to build affordable housing units in the City of Miami.

  • Voluntary Inclusionary Zoning: The City Commission in 2016 passed legislation that adds incentives for 1) affordable housing projects comprised entirely of workforce housing units and affordable housing units, and 2) an allows developers to build smaller units (e.g. a density bonus) for building affordable housing projects that also include units affordable to extremely low income families.

  • Updated Regional Development Plan: In late 2016, the City Commission updated the regional development plan to allow for added office space, hotel rooms, residential units, industrial space, institution space and attraction seats in the downtown area. This new proposal calls for the construction of no fewer than 2,700 affordable housing units within the "Downtown Development of Regional Impact" (or DRI) area (15% of new residential units).

  • Density Bonuses for Workforce and/or Affordable Housing Units: In February 2017, the Miami City Commission voted to approve a measure that allows developers to increase density from 36 units per acre to 72 dwelling units per acre if they set aside 10 percent of the units for workforce, affordable and extremely low-income housing. City documents state a goal to set aside 40 percent of the housing stock built in the next five years as mixed-income units. 

Other Regional Progress:

  • Federal funding for affordable housing: There are six "entitlement districts" within Miami-Dade County (in addition to the County itself) that receive federal funds for housing. These districts are: Hialeah, Homestead, City of Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, and North Miami. However, there is no current comprehensive plan that unifies all of these governmental entities to collaborate on solving the housing affordability crisis.
  • Progress stalled on Miami Beach housing for the poor: In 2011, Miami Beach passed a comprehensive plan aimed to build 16,00 affordable housing units by 2020. Unfortunately, the City of Miami Beach is far off it's target of building these units. In June 2017, Miami Beach Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán sponsored an ordinance to instead aim to build 6,800 affordable units by 2030.

Part IV. Why does it matter?

Why should we care about housing affordability? What impact does housing unaffordability have on the vitality of our community?

Here are a few consequences of high housing costs:

Negative impact on local economy: When workers have less disposable income, they spend less on local retail goods and services, which depresses revenue for local businesses.

In addition, high housing costs may impact the ability of local industry to recruit and retain employees. A recent study found that of 15 of the 50 largest employers in Los Angeles, 60% said that the region's high cost of living was affecting employee retention, and 64% said they had to factor in the cost of living when negotiating hiring packages for high-level employees. As a result of high housing costs, local industry may face additional costs to recruit and retain employees - or may decide to relocate to regions with a more accessible workforce.


Increased commute times and traffic congestion: If more workers have longer commutes, there will be more traffic on the roads. And, when workers live further from public transit options, there are fewer potential transit riders. Fewer transit riders makes it more difficult to maintain and improve transit services region-wide.



Negative impact on environment: Increasing sprawl and traffic negatively impacts the environment due to increased carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, the lower density homes (often single family homes) that more frequently exist outside of the city center are less energy efficient and often use more water (for lawn irrigation) and chemicals (for lawn maintenance), all of which have negative environmental impacts.


Negative consequences associated with segregated communities: A lack of affordable housing in better-resourced neighborhoods isolates lower-income families into certain neighborhoods, which are often socio-economically or racially segregated, under-resourced, and disconnected from economic and cultural opportunities. Studies have shown the negative "neighborhood" effects of growing up in largely segregated, under-resourced environments: for example, an analysis by Douglas Massey of Princeton found that lifetime earnings are $900,000 higher for those raised in top quintile neighborhoods than for individuals from bottom quintile neighborhoods. Schools in these neighborhoods are mostly underperforming in comparison to schools in wealthier neighborhoods, leaving their students with fewer opportunities to economic mobility. 

part V. Want to Learn More?

Housing affordability is a complex issue with a long and rich history. In addition to links provided throughout this backgrounder, we suggest visiting the following resources if you want to learn more: 

Miami Housing Solutions Lab:  Housing Policy Timeline

Miami Housing Solutions Lab: Housing Policy Timeline

If you have questions, comments or suggestions on the presentation of this background information, please contact Sarah Emmons at s@radicalpartners.net.

This backgrounder is an evolving resource and will incorporate new information as appropriate. We do not consider ourselves experts on this topic, but rather are excited to leverage our ability as community-gatherers to showcase research in this area and bring the community together to find solutions. 

Many thanks to the following organizations and individuals who helped aggregate this information and edit this resource: Alana Greer (Community Justice Project), Jorge de la Paz (Housing Solutions Lab), Marvin Wilmoth (KCG Development) and Santiago Bunce (Catalyst Miami). And thank you to our sponsor JPMorgan Chase & Co. for sponsoring this campaign!