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Miami-Dade Mayor Proposes Subsidies to Lower Rent Costs

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has proposed a county program that would provide landlords with monthly subsidies to help reduce rental costs. If approved, the partially taxpayer-funded program would go into effect in 2023.

(TNS) — Leasing an apartment in Miami for $3,000 a month could soon come with a new benefit: county rent relief.

Landlords would receive $10 million in subsidies under a proposed Miami-Dade County program funded in part with property-tax dollars.

The program is aimed at taming housing costs for middle-class renters.

It would pay landlords subsidies amounting to about $167 a month for 4,500 apartments and rental homes within targeted rent ranges. The county would require owners to reduce rents to “workforce” levels — prices considered affordable for a family of four earning up to $136,000 a year.

Advocates for affordable housing say the effort would squander money for tenants who can already afford Miami rents, since a two-bedroom apartment renting for $3,073 a month could qualify for the subsidy.

“I think it’s really problematic,” said Annie Lord, executive director of the Miami Homes for All, a nonprofit that advocates for more affordable housing. “And very unlikely to produce the kind of affordability — or protection of affordability — that is truly needed.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava made the program a centerpiece of the housing strategy in her 2023 budget proposal, a $10 billion spending plan that will go to the County Commission for a first vote on Thursday night.

Some commissioners want Levine Cava to scale back proposed spending increases to allow for a larger cut in tax rates than the 1 percent reduction the mayor wants.

That debate could be crucial for the survival of the proposed Workforce Housing Incentive Program, which would launch in the fall if it’s funded in the 2023 budget

Large apartment operators and builders helped design the new subsidy program, and joined Levine Cava at an Aug. 29 press conference promoting it as part of her $86 million “HOMES” housing initiative that’s also part of her budget plan.

“We actually helped draft the legislation,” Ana VeigaMilton said before joining Levine Cava at the podium. The Milton family owns United Property Management, one of the largest residential landlords in Miami-Dade.

“It was a completely collaborative effort between the public sector and the private sector,” VeigaMilton said.

The program mirrors legislation sponsored by Commissioner Kionne McGhee that commissioners passed in July calling for creation of the landlord subsidies.

McGhee said the program is designed to help middle-class workers who earn too much to qualify for most government-housing programs but still struggle with rising rents in one of the country’s most expensive housing markets.

“They’re being priced out,” he said this week. “That is the workforce component that has suffered silently.”

The rental subsidy program relies on Levine Cava’s plan to expand who qualifies for county housing aid.

An existing federally funded rent relief program in Miami-Dade limits applications to tenants earning 20 percent less than the county’s median income of $68,300. That rule caps eligibility for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program at an annual income of about $78,000 for a family of four.

Levine Cava’s new proposal uses much wider eligibility rules, covering tenants earning up to 40 percent above the median income. Under those rules, the cap spikes to $136,500 for a family of four. The program reserves half of the workforce fund for families making less than $108,000, or 10 percent above the median income.

With the higher income limits, Miami-Dade would also be spending county dollars on a much wider chunk of the rental housing market.

The workforce program, open to rental houses and apartments, would allow subsidies for homes that match or exceed some market rents, according to industry statistics and rental lists.

The typical two-bedroom apartment in Miami-Dade rents for $2,113 a month, according to the most recent data from Apartment List, a national rental listing company. That’s well below the maximum county cap of $3,073 monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment under the proposed subsidy guidelines.

United Property, the Milton company, advertises several apartments already renting below the proposed county rent caps, including a two-bedroom apartment in the Colony at Dadeland complex offered for $2,700 a month.

Under guidelines released this week, Miami-Dade wouldn’t grant subsidies to apartments or rental homes that already fall under the county’s rental caps. Levine Cava said the program is designed to lower rents currently above the workforce cap, not subsidize existing ones.

“The idea is to bring the prices down,” Levine Cava said in an interview last week.

Anne Ray, a researcher at the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida, said the proposed income caps leave Miami-Dade subsidizing relatively pricey rents while not targeting the lower rungs of the housing market that need more help.

“Three-thousand dollars is a lot,” she said. “By far the greatest needs are for renters making 50 percent or less of the area median income,” she said.

The Levine Cava administration this week released some rules for the program, but hasn’t said how it plans to implement a priority announced last week for subsidizing apartments rented to “front-line” workers, such as police officers, healthcare workers, firefighters and teachers who would be first in line for the county money.

By giving priority to that category of worker, much of the county subsidies could go for apartments rented by employees whose wages are already paid by local tax dollars.

In a budget memo released Wednesday, Levine Cava didn’t provide a breakdown of funding for the workforce subsidies. But it’s part of the $86 million HOMES budget, and half of that comes from local tax dollars and half from federal COVID funds.

This week, a coalition of nonprofits and advocacy groups wrote Levine Cava urging her to remake the workforce program to one that helps people making less than $65,000 a year, rather than the current cap of nearly $110,000.

“We are concerned that the [workforce] program targets a very large amount of funds to an incentive concept that is unproven anywhere in the country,” the letter said.

Levine Cava said the landlord effort is part of a larger plan to bring relief throughout a heated housing market.

Her HOMES program includes $5 million in rental subsidies solely for low-income renters already using federal Section 8 rent vouchers. That’s separate from the $10 million workforce fund. The HOMES plan also includes aid for home improvement projects to reduce energy costs, extra funding for homeless assistance, plus $1,500 relief grants for homeowners behind on mortgage, utility and tax bills. The HOMES plan is also part of the 2023 budget proposal up for a preliminary vote Thursday

“We’ve seen an unprecedented affordability crisis as our community has become one of the most unaffordable in the entire country,” Levine Cava said when she introduced the HOMES plan. “We’re making historic investments in solutions to the housing crisis.”

©2022 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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