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After Years-Long Saga, County Will Take Over Hundreds Of Miami Beach Affordable Units

In Miami Beach, where housing costs have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic and affordable units are scarce, a struggling nonprofit that controls more than a dozen low-income and elderly housing properties will turn over its entire portfolio to Miami-Dade County in hopes of keeping the buildings affordable.

Under a deal approved by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners last week, the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation will transfer ownership of its 16 buildings, totaling 357 income-restricted units, to the county, which manages thousands of affordable units countywide.

The county will take on the nonprofit’s debt and set aside nearly $13 million for improvements to the buildings, which have faced sanitation and maintenance complaints in the past but seen only limited upgrades as the nonprofit has dealt with financial woes. The group’s portfolio includes 14 buildings in Miami Beach and two in the city of Miami, all of which will be legally transferred to the county by the end of this year.

As part of the arrangement, the county has agreed to maintain the buildings at their current levels of affordability. More than half of the tenants make less than $10,000 per year, according to the nonprofit, and more than 80% are elderly or disabled.

“It is a huge relief to know that the hundreds of residents living in these affordable buildings no longer need to worry about losing their homes in the midst of an affordable housing crisis,” County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, whose district includes part of Miami Beach, said in a statement. “When I met with the residents to tell them the news last week, they too were relieved.”

It’s a change years in the making.

In 2013, Miami Beach reviewed the organization’s finances and found serious irregularities, including evidence funds had been spent on unauthorized or ineligible activities. The executive director resigned, two city officials quit and a third was fired. Miami Beach was left on the hook for the misspent funds and negotiated a more than $1 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

After the scandal, the nonprofit stopped receiving government subsidies. It began offloading some assets to make ends meet — subtracting from, instead of adding to, the city’s affordable housing stock. Miami Beach took over five of its properties, and the group also sold some of its units at market rate. In 2018, the nonprofit transferred ownership of Madison Apartments, an affordable housing building in South Beach, to the county.

The group tried to maintain control of its remaining properties, despite pressure from county officials. But ultimately, its leaders conceded the buildings and their residents would be better off under county control.

“We had exhausted all other options,” said Cristian Arango, the Community Development Corporation’s chief of operations and lone remaining staffer.

“What really matters is the tenants and fighting off gentrification in Miami Beach.” Miami Beach has repeatedly fallen short of its affordable housing goals. The city has about 2,000 units of income-restricted, subsidized housing, records show, shy of a 6,800-unit benchmark it set in 2017.

Arango said the loss of government funding, along with a failure to anticipate rising utilities and property insurance costs, contributed to the nonprofit’s limited ability to make a dent in the problem in recent years.

“You’re already running a building with very thin margins because your rents are so low,” Arango said. “Someone has to absorb additional costs, especially for rehabilitation projects.”

The Community Development Corporation will no longer own or manage affordable housing, though it’s not clear if it will cease to exist. The group will receive $350,000 plus closing costs from the county for the sale of two of its buildings, money Arango said will be put toward the community in a way that has yet to be decided.


Source:  Miami Herald


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County May Seek Bids In July To Redevelop 20 Acres Of Downtown Miami

County staff is still working on putting together a bid solicitation to be out in July to redevelop over 20 acres of county-owned land in downtown Miami.

“It seems like we’re pretty close to a July release,” confirmed Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who has been working to present an item to the commission for the redevelopment for over a year and a half.

Different county departments have moved forward on the necessary steps prior to putting out a solicitation, such as the water and sewer capacity analysis, electrical capacity analysis and goals for resiliency. A consultant is working on the specifications for a transit terminal.

The project aims to better use county-owned lands and meet community needs. Thus, it would include affordable and workforce housing, market-rate housing, open spaces such as parks, office space, a new library, a new historical museum, and a downtown intermodal terminal to provide bus bays for all buses terminating in the Government Center area.

As for resiliency goals, Commissioner Higgins said the Office of Resiliency is looking at LEED certification of buildings, water usage specifications, and green spaces.

“I’m not expecting to be that specific,” said Ms. Higgins when asked about the location of the parks. “I’m going to allow the private sector to be creative.”

Although all the requirements the county would provide will officially be known when the bid is published, staff expects it could take 10 to 15 years to complete the redevelopment.

The only element still in the works that could take longer to define is the transit terminal, Ms. Higgins told Miami Today. The intermodal terminal is a $35 million project that is part of the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP) FY 2022-2026, approved by county commissioners Feb. 2.

“It’s exciting to create a new neighborhood centered on affordability, centered on transit,” Ms. Higgins told Miami Today in a February interview. The downtown Government Center is already a hub of the county’s transit system, with the Metromover, Metrorail, bus system, and Brightline already providing services in the area.

As Miami Today previously reported, efforts to redevelop the Government Center area date to 2014, when county commissioners directed the mayor to provide a report for the plan, development, and maintenance of the county-owned property in downtown Miami.

In 2017, former Mayor Carlos Giménez presented a report on the county-owned properties, the redevelopment potential of some lands and assets, vacant parcels, and the potential opportunities. Since then, the county has been adopting rezoning ordinances to place the Government Center area in Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning.

“We’re going to be creating a hub downtown to live, work, and learn,” Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in an April interview.


Source:  Miami Today

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Miami-Dade Plans Massive Redevelopment In Downtown Miami

County authorities are working to redevelop over 20 acres of the downtown Government Center to include a transit terminal, affordable housing, and community cultural facilities and schools. Procurement for the first phase is expected during or after summer, but many details are still being discussed as the project encompasses many county departments.

The purpose of the 10- to 15-year redevelopment is to better use county-owned lands and meet community needs. The county would include a downtown intermodal terminal to provide bays for all buses terminating in Government Center to rise north of the Stephen P. Clark Center.

As Miami Today reported, the $35 million intermodal terminal project is part of the People’s Transportation Plan for 2022-2026, approved by county commissioners Feb. 2. As is the entire redevelopment area, the terminal is still in the definition phase and county staff is hashing out what features it would have.

“There have been talks for several years of developing a bus terminal here at the north of the Stephen P. Clark Center, where the county has excess land,” Dawn Soper, director, P3 & property development of the Internal Services Department, who is on the county team for the redevelopment, told Miami Today.

The redevelopment would also include open space areas such as parks for the residents.

“As you build these higher-density buildings, some of them might be office spaces, market-rate housing, but because it’s a priority of mine, some of these properties have to be redeveloped with affordable and workforce housing in mind,” said Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who has been working to present an item to the commission for the redevelopment for over a year and a half.

Some county-owned structures within the 20-plus acres aren’t necessarily earmarked to be torn down, such as the new Children’s Courthouse, open since April 2015. But areas such as the main county library and History Miami museum’s two buildings might be reconstructed to allocate higher buildings. The intention is to do so without interrupting service to residents.

“One of the things that will be in the RFP (request for proposals) is some kind of educational component,” Commissioner Higgins said. “Downtown doesn’t have elementary, middle or high schools, so it will include educational, cultural and parks components and affordable housing.”

While Ms. Higgins, the Mayor’s Office and the county departments work to define what they want the redevelopment to include, the staff is also going through infrastructure planning to identify necessary improvements in water and sewer, stormwater, and drainage, the conductivity in the streets, and electric power before beginning with procurement.

The efforts of the county to redevelop the Government Center area date as far back as 2014, when commissioners approved a resolution directing the mayor to report on the plan, development, and maintenance of county-owned property in downtown Miami.

In 2017, former Mayor Carlos Gimenez presented a report that outlined the county-owned properties, the redevelopment potential of some lands and assets, vacant lands, and the potential opportunities.

Since then, new county rezoning ordinances placed the Government Center area in the ​​Transit Oriented Development zoning, the county held public workshops with input from FIU students, the project took shape, and priorities were identified, Ms. Soper said.

The next step is to let developers bid on the project and propose what they can do to reach the county’s goals.

“We are in the planning stages, with the anticipation to finally benefit the community,” Ms. Soper said.


“It’s exciting to create a new neighborhood centered on affordability, centered on transit,” Ms. Higgins said. “County land is actually the people’s land, so we should be giving it the best use for things like museums, parks, and affordable housing.”

When asked about a resolution headed to the commission to allow five constitutional officers, including those to be elected in 2024, to move their offices outside the City of Miami, Ms. Higgins said she didn’t think that decision would have any impact on this project: “It might free up some space. It might not.”


Source:  Miami Today

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County Drafts Downtown Miami Transit-Oriented Revamp

After several delays, a report meant to guide the first phase of a planned redevelopment of 32 acres in the downtown Government Center area should be done by summer, according to Miami-Dade commissioner leading the push to revamp the area.

Progress on the report, which officials initially expected would be finished more than a year ago, stalled once Covid-19 hit. Efforts were again hampered as control of county government changed hands.

But work has now resumed, said Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who said she and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava met in early January “to look at the vision for what we think we can do for the county with that redesign, to build a transit-oriented neighborhood that also brings a lot of public good and is another place for affordable housing.”

Ms. Higgins told Miami Today that her office and county staff will next host a meeting in March to get further feedback from residents.

“Then we’ll include that input [in the report] and get the mayor’s approval to try to get some phase one work going out this summer,” she said. “We’ll be able to take those ideas and then determine whether it’s a [request for proposals] or a [request for information] out on the street.”

The report is a long time coming. Initially expected in January 2020, then by that April and later punted to no date certain, the document is to serve as a conceptual roadmap for an overhaul of 34 county properties around the county’s headquarters.

Among them: the Stephen P. Clark building housing County Hall and central hub of Metrorail and Metromover, the Juvenile Assessment Center, the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse Center, the Main Library and HistoryMiami museum.

Those properties and 29 others are part of the Government Center Subzone, one of five subzones in the Fixed-Guideway Rapid Transit Zone county lawmakers created in 2014 to reclaim regulatory jurisdiction of Metrorail-adjacent properties within City of Miami limits.

Others include the Downtown Intermodal District Corridor Subzone, which allowed Brightline to be developed, as well as the Brickell Station and Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre subzones.

The vision for the Government Center area shared by Ms. Higgins and others from the county, including Nathan Kogon, assistant director of development services for the Miami-Dade Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, is of a dense, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly neighborhood with affordable housing and many public amenities like a modernized library and a new park.

And that park shouldn’t just be concrete and fountains, Ms. Higgins said.

“The part that still needs the most work [in the report] is making sure we have a green space that is activated in a neighborhood way rather than just grass – a greenspace that is activated night and day that will make this a neighborhood where people want to live and work,” she said. “There’s the ability to make this feel like there’s this community space to play and use that is very much missing from the downtown core. Bayfront Park certainly exists, but it’s generally an event space versus a community gathering space, and so it’s having the ability to do a little of that.”

Once the preliminary work is done and ground can be broken, Mr. Kogon said previously, work to redevelop the Government Center Subzone shouldn’t encounter much political opposition.

“[It’s] not a highly political hot potato,” he said. “It’s almost that we had a diamond sitting underground nobody could see, and we pulled it up so it could shine. [This] additional layer we’re doing, this study, is really a finer polish that we want to bring back.”


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Rebuilding Flagler Was A Mess. Officials Think This Policy Will Help Future Projects.

Almost a year after a painfully disruptive and often delayed makeover of Flagler Street concluded, politicians and Florida’s transportation agency are sending a message to wary merchants, neighbors and commuters: It won’t happen that way again.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has changed its philosophy on how to mount street reconstruction projects in dense urban settings without causing the kind of grief that came with the 2 1/2-year Flagler redo. Some merchants went out of business when customers had trouble getting to their doors after parking spaces were replaced by piles of dirt and debris. Torn-up roads created hazards for pedestrians, especially seniors.

Florida Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, met with officials from the state agency and Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins this week to discuss the new policy and how to best approach any improvements to state-owned roads, including potential upgrades to Southwest Eighth Street, the thoroughfare better known as Calle Ocho.

Kevin J. Thibault, Florida’s secretary of transportation, told the South Florida politicians that his department plans to limit construction zones to minimize their impact on small businesses and the parking spaces they depend on. Under the new policy, the state will require contractors to finish one limited phase of a project before starting the next one.

“We would only take out of service one block at a time,” Thibault said during the meeting.

On the heels of the Flagler project that scarred Little Havana proprietors, Rodríguez sent FDOT a letter in March asking for a new policy. Thibault, who was appointed secretary in January by Gov. Ron DeSantis, made the new statewide policy effective June 2. The guidelines are intended to help small businesses survive construction outside their front doors and people who walk around the neighborhood.

Contractors will also have to ensure pedestrians can safely navigate construction zones during the work, a requirement that will be factored into the project’s design. Engineers would also need to do a better job identifying what utility lines may be underground during the design phase so when the road is ripped apart, there are fewer surprises that delay the work.

“We cannot forget the Flagler construction nightmare nor afford to repeat it, and a new policy FDOT developed at my request aims to prevent that,” said Rodríguez, after the meeting. “Pedestrians, small businesses, neighbors and vulnerable road users need to be a priority during road construction.”

A makeover of Miami’s famous Calle Ocho could be on the horizon, but Rodríguez and Higgins said Little Havana property owners are worried in the wake of the problems that plagued Flagler. Higgins was a vocal FDOT critic during the Flagler project, which was completed by Russell Engineering and overseen by consultant Pinnacle Consulting.

Higgins, who took to regularly inspecting the Flagler construction site herself to pressure contractors, remained skeptical after the meeting. She was encouraged by the new policy, but she, along with Rodríguez, said FDOT needs to do better outreach to property owners to identify what they want out of road improvements well before final designs are cemented, from door-to-door visits and one-on-one meetings to community-wide gatherings.

“You have to know what people need for their street,” she said.

Even still, Higgins said FDOT has a lot of work to do to win the trust of Calle Ocho property owners, merchants and neighbors after the Flagler nightmare.

“I don’t think there is an appetite for another construction project right now,” she said.


Source:  Miami Herald

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