Miami Herald, November 10, 2007: Many renters find nowhere to go

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Low-income renters in Miami face one of the most burdensome markets in the country, with spiraling housing costs and stagnant wages pricing them out of their homes at a ”worrisome” pace, concludes a study released Friday by Florida International University.

Once they are priced out of gentrifying Miami neighborhoods, low-income renters have ”virtually nowhere to go” to find more affordable housing because there is a dire lack of lower-cost apartments throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the study says.

”We’ve known there is an affordability crisis, but what this study is now pointing to is displacement and replacement,” said Marco Feldman, a research associate at FIU’s Research Institute for Social and Economic Policy and the study’s author.

”We’re seeing an influx of wealthier people into Miami and a sharp reduction in the number of affordable apartments,” he said.

The study’s release coincided with a planned protest early Friday by 30 housing activists, who gathered in Overtown before 8 a.m.

Led by the grass-roots group, Power U, members of Take Back the Land, Miami Workers Center and Low Income Families Fighting Together all planned to walk 6.5 miles to Miami City Hall, where commissioners had been expected to vote on a condo development known as Crosswinds. The vote was postponed.

Some housing activists say the Crosswinds plan doesn’t include enough units for low-income families. They say that the $200,000-plus condos are priced well out of the reach of most people in the neighborhood, which is considered one of South Florida’s poorest.

”The last thing this city needs is more high-priced condos,” said Denise Perry of Power U. “What we need is affordable housing for its residents.”

The FIU report backed Perry’s argument.

Bringing together an in-depth analysis of census figures along with wage and income data, the report found the following:

Between 2000 and 2006, there were 20,634 fewer renters living in apartments in Miami costing $600 or less per month; a 39 percent decrease. At the same time, there were 9,000 more renters living in apartments costing $1,000 a month or more.

There was a slight reduction — nearly 2 percent — in people with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty line, while the incomes above 200 percent of the poverty line increased by nearly 30 percent.

The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach metropolitan area leads the nation in the percentage of renters who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing and those who pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing.

”This crisis has been building for a number of years, and now we’re beginning to reach a really critical point in the city,” Feldman said.

One of the things at stake: a balanced workforce that includes low-, middle- and high-income workers.

”If low- and middle-income workers cannot find adequate, affordable housing in the city of Miami, businesses will face an employment crisis,” the study concludes.

Tony Villamil, chairman of the Beacon Council Economic Roundtable and CEO of the Washington Economic Group in Coral Gables, has said for the past two years that South Florida is at a critical juncture and bold moves are needed.

”There’s been a glimpse of political will,” he said. “Everyone is talking about the fact that we need to do something, but there has been very little movement.”

He points to the sputtering property tax reform effort.

‘One of the reasons that there are so few low-cost apartments is that during these boom years covered by this study, landlords’ tax bills have gone up dramatically because they get no relief from Save Our Homes,” he said. “These tax reforms they want us to vote for on Jan. 29 do nothing to fix this part of the problem.

”Something has to give. Soon,” he said.

Miami Herald staff writers Michael Vasquez and Erika Beras contributed to this rep

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