By Mileyka Burgos-Flores, Maybelyn Rodriguez Laureano, and Annie Lord
This story was originally published in the Miami Herald on September 6, 2022.
Miami is seeing rents skyrocket, and civic leaders agree that our city is facing an extraordinary housing crisis. But as we put our collective energies into finding solutions, there is a fork in the road as to how to solve this crisis.
Do we allow residents to lead efforts to save their neighborhoods and make housing more affordable, or do we put trust in developers as the catalyst to create the much-needed housing stock for Miami families being priced out of their communities?
Nowhere is this binary choice more obvious than in Allapattah — the rapidly changing neighborhood abutting the Miami’s Health District, where the city of Miami currently operates some city services out of a sprawling, 19-acre campus on Northwest 12th Avenue at 20th Street, referred to as the “GSA Site.” For years, the GSA Site has been considered an unparalleled opportunity to create thousands of new homes.
We certainly need them. According to the University of Florida, Miami-Dade lacks 68,400 affordable homes for households earning up to about $55,000, or 80% of the area median income (AMI). By comparison, there is only a shortage of 2,500 units for those earning up to about $82,000 per year, or 120% AMI. This proportionate need is similar within the city of Miami.
What’s more, in Miami, 57% of all households are cost-burdened, paying more than they can afford on the rent or mortgage. This problem is felt disproportionately by Black and Hispanic households, over half of which are cost-burdened, compared to 37% of their white counterparts. To meet this dire need, the city should prioritize the development of housing for those making under $55,000 rather than those making up to $82,000.
In 2019, Mayor Francis Suarez issued a request for ideas on how best to develop the GSA site — but without conducting a preliminary engagement of the neighborhood’s residents, small business owners or workers. The Public Land for Public Good Coalition — a collective of over 30 organizations working to ensure public land benefits all Miamians — offered to partner with the city for a first round of community engagement, asking the neighborhood what its hopes are for the site. Suarez provided funding for this effort, as did the Health Foundation of South Florida. After a series of well-attended public workshops and in-depth interviews, the PLPG Coalition identified the top four recommendations from participants:
▪ Affordable housing priced for current residents, who typically earn less than $55,000 per year.
▪ A community center with on-site services to meet current resident need.
▪ Publicly accessible recreation space.
▪ Ongoing community engagement to help guide the redevelopment.
The PLPG Coalition submitted the engagement insights report over a year ago. Many times since, we have requested that the administration prioritize the report’s recommendations in the Request For Proposals (RFP), giving weight to the needs and aspirations of the Allapattah neighborhood, which also align with those of the city as a whole.
Despite our continued engagement with the city, it was an unsolicited proposal submitted by a private developer — and not the needs defined by the community — that triggered an open bidding process via a Request for Proposals. At the July 28 City Commission meeting, the unsolicited proposal was presented and the RFP process was initiated to be completed in a few weeks, after which additional applicants can submit proposals within 90 days.
Since then, key city administrators and elected officials appear to be taking the position that it should be developers’ plans and projections that guide how the public land should be re-developed. The question now is, how will the city judge the submitted proposals? How will it make sure that the redevelopment prioritizes the needs of Allapattah’s families, long-time residents, workers and business owners?
We have not received a response to these questions.
We note that the unsolicited proposal includes no plans for affordable housing, community services or for ongoing community engagement. It does include workforce housing, priced for those earning 100%-140% AMI ($68,300-$95,760 per year), but this is out of reach for current Allapattah residents. Based on the U.S. American Community Survey, the 2022 median household income for Allapattah is $30,634, or about 45% AMI. In our estimation, this proposal leaves serious value on the table for Allapattah and for the city and it doesn’t account for the financial reality of Allapattah residents.
We call on Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, and City Manager Art Noriega not to waste this golden opportunity to address the desperate needs of Allapattah and the whole city. Affordable housing is hard to build, in part, because available land is so scarce. We must use publicly owned land for affordable housing at every opportunity.
This parcel will help to define the future of Miami for the next 50 years. The city has a chance to set an example for how public land can be redeveloped in smooth collaboration with the community.
It’s not too late to show that this city can be as inclusive as some claim it is — a Miami, truly, for everyone.
Mileyka Burgos-Flores is founding executive director of the Allapattah Collaborative CDC. Maybelyn Rodriguez Laureano is executive director of the South Florida Community Development Coalition. Annie Lord is executive director of Miami Homes for All. Each of their organizations is a member of the Public Land for Public Good Coalition. Learn more at plpgmiami.org.