Moving Miami Toward Vibrancy and the Shortfalls of Amendment 1

As our beautiful city continues to work toward competing with the most vibrant cities in the country, it continues to suffer from a severe lack of affordable housing that must be addressed. When housing costs alone are considered, Miami is the least affordable of the 25 largest metro areas nationally. The lack of housing that is affordable in Miami most deeply impacts the homeless and working poor, who many times hold more than one job, but cannot afford a place to live. Still, the struggle to find housing is not just an issue for the poor or homeless. Tech savvy young professionals struggle to find affordable homes, often resulting in their moving to another city. The impact of the struggle of these households ripples through our local economy, inhibiting business development, among other important sectors like education and health care. Funding for housing continues to be threatened, particularly by Amendment 1, on the Florida ballot this year. If Miami is to be included among the upper echelons of prosperous cities in our country, we must generate and maintain housing that is available and affordable to the hardworking households in our city.

Miami must address the rental cost burden for working households. A study by the Center of Housing Policy estimates that the Miami metro area has the highest rental cost burden for working households in the entire country. Of the 700,000 working households in the Miami metro market, nearly 200,000 are spending more than half their income on housing costs due to a shortage of housing that is affordable and available. As a result of their limited expendable income, these households are at a higher risk of becoming homeless when faced with an unforeseen financial cost.

In moving our city toward economic vibrancy, it is crucial to understand the repercussions the housing shortage has on various sectors in our local economy. Almost 60% of Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce members report that rising housing costs make it difficult to recruit new employees, presenting a challenge to new employers. According to the Florida Housing Coalition, the availability and affordability of housing can create more than 27,000 jobs and over $3.43 billion in economic impact for Florida. The impact of housing spills over into other areas like education and healthcare. When children move less and live in stable neighborhoods, studies show it results in higher educational attainment levels. Additionally, substandard housing and overcrowding are linked to stress and depression, increasing health expenditures. In order to address some of the most serious challenges in our city, we have to dig deeper, and look at whether housing is the root cause of that issue, as it so often is.

Recognizing the fundamental importance of housing to our cities, the Florida Legislature enacted the Sadowski Act in 1992, which created the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund, to ensure a reliable source of revenue for housing programs. The housing fund provides critical funding to two major state programs: homeownership opportunities and multifamily rental development. The housing fund is paramount to developing and maintaining affordable housing programs in our state, and as such, we must ensure it is adequately funded every single year.

The only source of funding for the housing fund is the documentary surtax on real estate transactions. This documentary surtax is also used to fund transportation and environmental funds, and the general revenue. During the recession in 2008, the legislature appropriated additional portions of the documentary surtax to the general revenue, to help reduce the deficit. This reduced the amount of funding available for the other various funds. Today, despite the state's budgetary surplus, the funding raised from the documentary surtax has never been adequately re-allocated to the housing fund.

Housing advocates campaign annually for full funding of the housing fund, however Amendment 1 presents a unique potential challenge to the future funding of the housing fund. Amendment 1 requires that 33% of Florida's documentary stamp tax revenue--the same revenue used to fund the housing fund--be used for environmental and land purpose programs for a 20-year period beginning in 2015. Proponents claim the allocation will cost $5 billion over the next 10 years. However, by looking closer at the projected revenue for the documentary surtax, Amendment 1 would actually cost around $8 billion over the next 10 years. The $3 billion difference between cost estimates will likely come out of the documentary surtax funding used for the other programs: housing, transportation, and the general revenue.

While environmental programs are important, Amendment 1 is worrisome because it forces the legislature to pull funding from the other programs the documentary surtax funds, like the housing fund and homeless services funded by the general revenue, to ensure it meets the constitutionally required 33% amount for environmental programs. As a constitutional amendment, it also ties the legislature's hands in the event of market fluctuations or changes in the future funding needs of certain programs or issues. Finally, housing and environmental programs are not mutually exclusive issues; indeed, there are various green housing programs that also create walkable neighborhoods with lower carbon footprints. Still, while Amendment 1 will likely pass, it is critical to engage our legislators to advocate for full funding of the Sadowski Housing Trust Fund in the next legislative session.

As housing costs in Miami continue to outpace incomes, it is critical that we do more to address our housing needs and recognize that housing is not just a poor man's issue. We need innovative solutions that bring together organizations and entities from all areas of our society to collectively respond to the growing housing crisis. The Miami Coalition for the Homeless is developing the Miami Homes For All® campaign, which pools philanthropic and government dollars to provide low-interest loans to developers who commit a certain percentage of units to extremely low-income households. The government funding at stake with Amendment 1 is crucial to developing housing that is affordable, particularly for the lowest income brackets who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Indeed, available and affordable housing is the cornerstone of the solution to homelessness. By providing housing that working households can afford, we can attract better quality workers, top employers, and like a domino effect, our city will thrive.