The nation’s top housing official visited Miami on Tuesday and called the city the “epicenter” of a housing crisis in the United States.
“I decided I was going to Miami, to the epicenter of the housing crisis in this country,” Marcia Fudge, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said during a visit to Miami-Dade County’s Liberty Square complex.
For her first Miami stop, Fudge visited a redeveloped version of one of the oldest public housing complexes in the country, and a reminder of Miami’s segregationist past. Liberty Square, built in the 1930s, was once marked by a concrete wall to mollify white neighbors alarmed at the construction of housing for Black residents in their neighborhood.
The complex is in the process of being redeveloped by private developer Related Group under a $390 million Miami-Dade program allowing companies to use federal dollars to subsidize complexes that include public housing units for low-income residents, capped rents tied to residents’ incomes, as well as apartments charging market rents. More than 600 units have been built in new apartment buildings under the first half of the project.
Fudge met privately with residents, local officials and developers.
“It’s so nice to come to a community where people want to live,” she said.
In Miami-Dade, HUD funding provides the bulk of the county’s $700 million budget for public housing, which includes complexes such as Liberty Square and rental vouchers under the federal Section 8 program, which subsidizes rents for low-income residents with requirements for stable rents and price caps.
Miami-Dade’s 2022 budget says the county needs an additional $400 million for repairs and improvements at public housing than is in the budget. Those are needs the county’s housing director, Michael Liu, said can only be met with more HUD funding. “We need more money for public housing,” Liu said before Fudge’s press conference began.
Fudge’s visit to government-backed housing projects came amid a surge in Miami rents and real estate prices that has worsened one of the country’s widest affordability gaps for housing.
The day she toured Miami-Dade County’s Liberty Square housing complex, a national rental listing company released a report saying Miami-Dade renters faced “the most competitive market in 2022” out of the 100 largest real estate markets.
RentCafe found there are 31 prospective renters competing for every vacant apartment in Miami-Dade, compared to 14 in the national average. Broward County finished tenth on the list, with 19 renters competing for every vacant unit.
Higher demand has also led to higher rents. Miami now ranks fifth in Zumper’s national ranking of average rents, at about $2,400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. While that’s up 25% from a year ago, Zumper noted “Miami’s red-hot market is beginning to cool” since it held the No. 3 slot in the spring.
Fudge urged local and state leaders not to wait on spending a surge of federal aid from COVID relief legislation and other programs. “This opportunity will not come again,” she said.
For the soaring costs hitting renters and would-be buyers in South Florida’s housing market, Fudge said local governments should make it easier to build homes quickly.
“We can no longer sit back and say ‘yes we want to make things happen,’ and then make things as difficult as possible through zoning and planning,” Fudge said. In a later interview, she said: “If your zoning says you can only build single-family housing, what have you accomplished?”
Fudge was escorted on the tour by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who has proposed loosening county zoning rules to make it easier to split lots and allow buildings to go up closer together. “We certainly have a plan,” Levine Cava said. “Densification is one way to create opportunity, which will bring down costs.”