Miami affordable housing bill passes first hurdle

by Andrew Morrell

A preliminary measure to introduce an innovative, though limited, inclusionary zoning policy in downtown Miami received unanimous approval from members of the City Commission in a Nov. 15 vote, the Miami Herald reported. That pushes forward a measure that, if approved, would require developers of new residential buildings in a section of downtown Miami to include a certain percentage of units deemed affordable for lower-income households.

While inclusionary zoning has been implemented before in certain recent developments in and around Miami, this new measure would be the first to be enshrined in local law. The current proposal would apply to any new private development projects in a small but rapidly growing section of downtown that lies east of Overtown and west of Northeast Second Ave., which comprises an area called the Omni community redevelopment district — around 30 city blocks, according to the Miami Herald. The proposal would also “upzone” the area, allowing a higher density of development, an effort to appease developers that would normally oppose such a measure.

“In order to make this work we decided on a bit of carrot-and-stick approach,” Commissioner and sponsor of the bill Ken Russell said in the meeting, according to the Herald. “The additional [density] is the carrot and not making affordability an option is the stick.”

While the proposal passed on first reading by city commissioners, plenty of debate over revisions will likely follow if the plan is approved at all.

Key to the debate around the measure will be its definition of “affordable.” In Miami-Dade County, affordable housing is legally defined as homes or apartments that would be affordable for households that earn 80 percent or less of the local median income. But the county also defines and incentivizes “workforce housing” units priced to be affordable for households earning at least 120 percent of the median local income.

At present, the 80 percent threshold would include households with an income of $62,950 or less supporting a family of four. Workforce housing eligibility would top out at $94,440 for a family of four.

The Miami Herald reported that some city commissioners including Russell, who represents the Omni district, want those thresholds to be lowered.

“It’s going to a blended neighborhood. Miamians are already becoming divided by income and neighborhood,” Russell said in the Nov. 15 meeting, according to the Herald. “We don’t believe it has to be that way.”

Two years ago, a similar proposal to mandate inclusionary zoning at the county level was rejected by city commission members, and strongly opposed by developers. Since then, the Herald noted that more projects in the Omni district and elsewhere around downtown have adopted affordable housing quotas of their own on a case-by-case basis. But proponents of the new law want the process to be more uniform, combatting the segregation that often results from the traditional approach to affordable housing measures.

A final vote on the proposal is expected to be held next month.

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