Miami-Dade's airwaves, op-ed pages and water cooler discussions are alive with vigorous condemnations of the gross public corruption and pilfering of funds earmarked for low-income housing. While such discussion is just and appropriate, particularly in the context of a devastating crisis of gentrification and low-income housing, not nearly enough time, energy and brain power is devoted to solving the housing crisis itself.
While shocking, immoral and criminal, the reality is that the impact of public corruption on the crisis pales in comparison to the impact of bad public policy on the crisis. If government officials stop stealing tomorrow, or, God forbid, they are actually charged with stealing, the crisis itself would continue, unabated, because there is neither the political will nor the plan to build enough low-income housing to meet the demand. Therefore, ending corruption is important, but insufficient, in addressing this crisis.
In October 2006, the Miami-Dade Department of Planning and Zoning updated its 25 year Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP), outlining challenges, goals and objectives for several strategic 'elements,' including transportation, conservation, waste management and the like. On page one of the Housing Element of the CDMP, census and housing data is used to conclude the county "will require 294,200 new housing units" by 2025, of which "about 42 percent... will be needed by very low and low-income households."
To adequately address the continuing crisis of gentrification and housing, 123,564 new low and very low income housing units must be built. This number, the CDMP stresses, will not address the current crisis, only the future.
This is not a stunt promoted by radical fringes or a conjured total invented by special interest groups. 123,564 is derived by professional staff paid to develop public policy objectives based on measurable needs and without regard for political considerations.
During this time of budget cuts and housing busts, the notion of building 123,564 housing units, substantially subsidized by public money, is a grand idea whose time has come. This idea requires shifting budget priorities, focusing talent, pooling resources and, yes, ending public corruption.
The lofty objective of providing housing for human beings, our neighbors, friends and even family, is not something one county or large city can accomplish alone. Every municipality, even the wealthy ones, must contribute their fair share to the total; Corporations must reinvest profits back into the communities which enrich them; professionals must contribute their talents and skills; social justice organizations must dedicate their organized energy; and individuals must give of their time; all for the greater good.
Experience teaches us that simply building the requisite number of units will not resolve this dire situation. Thus, the 123,564 new units must be built inside of at least three parameters.
First, once built, the units must be occupied by low and very low income residents, not sold to politically connected developers who "flip" the units into profitability for them and out of affordability for the poor. Second, development must mesh with other common objectives, such as mass transportation and meeting the unique social and cultural needs of the community the project serves, not the developer or gentrifyers.
Third, in function and in form, the new wave of development must be both humanitarian and green. In times of water shortages, spiraling energy costs and other environmental impacts, a socially conscious green wave of development is the only way to ensure the sustainable economic and social growth of a community and the survival of our planet. Development must take place with reverence for green spaces, animal habitats and our finite water supply, among other factors.
Two things are needed to accomplish this objective: first, the political will and a solid plan. But ready or not, by 2025 over 100,000 additional families will need low income housing in South Florida, and the conditions under which they will live then- in clean, safe housing or in shantytowns- will be determined by what we do now.
Too much money? Too much trouble? What is the alternative?
Today, approximately 50,000 luxury condos prepare for grand opening, presumably followed by foreclosure and indefinite vacancy. Meanwhile, over 40,000 families languish on the county's housing assistance wait list, a number, according to the CDMP, which will grow exponentially. What happens when tens of thousands of home-less people suddenly realize they are living in the shadow of people-less homes?
The question is not what is the alternative to building all of those units, but rather what is the alternative to what will happen when they are not built. The answer is as easy as
We invite and challenge every organization and individual concerned with the crisis of gentrification and housing to join the effort to build 123,564 new low and very-low income units in Miami-Dade County by 2025.
Take Back the Land
a project of the Center for Pan-African Development