A new path to affordable housing is coming to Miami

We know Miami is crazy unaffordable, especially when it comes to housing. We know we need solutions. It’s such a hot topic that FIU Metropolitan Center sold out a talk on affordable housing within days of posting it online.

There’s a new solution coming to Miami-Dade — and tomorrow night’s panel — after 10 years of success in other parts of South Florida and nationwide: community land trusts.  A nonprofit entity buys or acquires land. It builds homes on it. It sells those homes to people who qualify for low-income housing at an affordable cost.

When it works, units stay affordable pretty much forever because they can only be sold to other low-income qualifying home buyers at a rate set before the property values start spiraling. Rates of gentrification slow because residents have a place they can afford long-term. Struggling neighborhoods stabilize because they have residents with a sense of ownership that prompts them to invest in the community.

In a city of foreign buyers, absentee landlords, and speculative real estate transactions, that’s an unusual degree of longevity — the kind of longevity that created culturally rich neighborhoods like Little Havana and Little Haiti, which are struggling to hold together today.

“I think if there’s anywhere that needs the CLT model, it’s Miami,” said South Florida Community Land Trust Executive Director Mandy Bartle, whose organization is laying the groundwork to expand to Miami-Dade. “Prices are appreciating so quickly that even if you get someone into a home today, a few years from now they wouldn’t be able to afford the same home.”

“The rates at which neighborhoods are being gentrified is unlike any other in the country,” she added. “In Broward County the costs are going up, but entire communities are not being displaced at once at the same rate they are in Miami.”

How it works:

The land trust acquires land (more on ways they do that below) and builds or renovates housing on that land. Then it sells the units to residents on a 99-year lease while keeping ownership of the land the house sits on.

If the homeowner sells the house, the profit from land appreciation is split between them and the land trust, which reinvests it into new projects. The homeowner can only sell to people who qualify for affordable housing.

Why it works:

Because the homeowner doesn’t have to pay for the land, the cost of the home is lower. Plus, the land trust sets the appreciation at a fixed rate, so even if values spiral out of control around them, the units on the land trust property will remain affordable. And the community land trust gets a bit of revenue to help keep it going.

Where it works best:

A land trust model needs at least one of the following things to really take off: a concentration of vacant properties it can take over, a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification, or a new planned transit line where values will rise in the future.

One of their most successful projects in Broward was their takeover of an apartment complex in Wilton Manors. When they purchased the property, it had been vacant and in disrepair for more than two years.  South Florida CLT got its hands on it and remodeled all the apartments, bringing them up to code, then it opened the doors to Broward’s low-income residents.  Today it provides a home for 16 households who earn less than 50 percent of the area’s median income.

How the land trust gets the land:

There are a couple options available to them in Miami-Dade.

  • Miami-Dade County and its municipal governments own a ton of vacant or underutilized parcels of land that could be donated
  • South Florida Community Land Trust can purchase properties that are blighted or not up to code for a low price and then bring them back up to standard
  • They can buy land that is currently low-value that will appreciate, like along future transit corridors.

Learn more about the South Florida Community Land Trust and hear other important voices on affordable housing tomorrow night at “Let’s talk about (un)affordable Miami.” You can follow along on Periscope (they’re at @fiumetrocenter) or Twitter with the hashtag #Prosperity305.