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We are launching our next 100 Great Ideas campaign on October 2nd, 2017. This time, the topic will be Housing Affordability, an issue that has huge consequences for our region. We encourage you to join in on the Facebook page the campaign goes live. 

If you’re looking to learn a bit more about the housing affordability challenge in our community, this backgrounder is for you. 

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 country. 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.

What Affects Housing Affordability?

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

  • Building affordable units isn’t 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." 

    • To learn more about the costs of affordable housing, check out The Urban Institute's affordable housing development simulation tool

  • Less-than-planned state government investment in affordable housing. 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.



  • Restrictive zoning laws, parking requirements, and other policies: 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. 

What Actions Have Already Been Taken Locally?


  • 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, but this proposal was rejected by the County Commission. At the time, Commissioner Jordan said she planned to revisit a mandatory bill in two years time if developers were not using the voluntary program.


  • 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.

  • 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 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 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. 


  • 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 to 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.

Want to Learn More about Housing Affordability in Miami and South Florida?

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: 

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 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: Miami Homes for All, XX, XX. And thank you to our sponsor JPMorgan Chase & Co. for sponsoring this campaign!