Miami-Dade has a chance to build affordable housing for the workers who keep us safe | Opinion

Miami-Dade’s housing crisis has left a trail of displaced workers and financially burdened families. While Miami-Dade County has a robust program to build thousands of affordable-housing units for seniors and lower-income residents, housing affordability has affected other critical sectors of our workforce.

Teachers, police officers, nurses, public defenders, firefighters and assistant state attorneys — workers that keep our community safe — face the prospect of having to move out of the county. Many already have, leaving organizations such as Jackson Memorial Hospital struggling to recruit new employees.

To address this demand, the county created a Workforce Housing Development Program to build housing for families with incomes between 60% and 140% of our Area Median Income (AMI). This measure determines the need for affordable housing in a given community. For example, a family of four, whose combined income is $78,000 is at 80% AMI, and one with a combined income of $117,000 is at 120% AMI.

Recently, some municipalities have adopted policies that limit the AMI for workforce housing to 100 percent, which is a combined income of $97,500 for a family of four, and $68,300 for a single person. While these policies are well-meaning, they create unintended consequences.

I’ll explain.

The days of concentrating low-income housing in one development — fully subsidized by taxpayers — are long gone. Whether Chicago’s Cabrini-Green or Miami-Dade’s Liberty Square, this failed policy limited access to economic opportunity. Now, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) prioritizes deconcentrating poverty by building mixed-income communities. In fact, not doing so puts counties at risk of losing federal dollars.

In line with HUD’s policy, the county is prioritizing mixed-income developments that include low-income, senior, workforce and market-rate housing. These developments create an environment where residents and families with a broad range of incomes and ages can live and prosper. To achieve this, the county partners with the private sector. When we combine private investment with federal and local funds, we can build much-needed workforce housing and more low-income units. In my district, an existing senior housing complex includes 800 low-income units. By leveraging private-sector dollars, the county is now rehabbing or building new units to replace older units while also adding 1,200 low-income and workforce units.

What makes this mixed-use project successful is flexibility. Capping the AMI to 100% would kill the project at this critical juncture because it eliminates our ability to leverage private-sector investment to build more units. If all municipalities limit AMI to 100%, the countywide impact is more dire. Utilizing the 2022 Miami-Dade Housing Affordability Tracker, it’s estimated that 5,743 workforce units — housing for nearly 15,000 residents — would not be built in our cities.

With this in mind, I have introduced legislation so the working families and workers who keep us safe can afford to live in the community they love. If passed at the Oct. 6 County Commission meeting, it will ensure that the county has the flexibility it needs to finance affordable and workforce housing and face our housing crisis head-on.

Eileen Higgins represents District 5 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.