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'Alarming' Housing Crisis In South Florida Spurs Search For Solutions

Newgard Development Group’s Harvey Hernandez, Moderno Development’s Doron Broman, Morgan Properties’ Laurel Hillocks, Cymbal DLT’s Asi Cymbal and Weiss Serota Helfman Cole + Bierman's Joseph Hernandez.

A scarcity of developable land and an influx of wealthy migrants has spiraled South Florida’s affordable housing crisis out of control so fast that it has surprised even the most experienced local developers.

“There's a whole a population of people out there who none of us typically think of as being cost burdened, or, you know, stressed to be able to afford an apartment," PTM Partners CEO Michael Tillman said at Bisnow’s multifamily conference at the Margaritaville resort in Fort Lauderdale earlier this month.

“That gap is probably the most alarming gap that we're seeing in South Florida," Tillman said. "It is the people who are young professionals, first responders, nurses, teachers, they can’t find a place to live within short distances of their jobs.”

Industry experts at the event discussed potential solutions to help alleviate the crisis. Six in 10 employed adult residents in Miami are housing cost-burdened with housing expenses, the highest rate in the nation, according to the Miami Urban Future Initiative

Alex Ballina, the director of governmental and public affairs for Miami-based developer Resia, said his company built with a "concrete modular form" for its latest projects to cut the development timeline. He said Resia built a 216-unit Miami project in seven months with its prefabricated technique.

“Time is money, as all of us know, in this industry," Ballina said. "As we all know, look outside, we live in paradise. So the cost of affordability is only going to get worse. What we try to focus on I always say, is we build a Honda Accord with the leather package of the multifamily. We're right in the middle."

Interuban's Jake Morrow, NEI General Contracting’s Rich Ionelli, CREI Holdings’ Raul Rodriguez, Resia’s Alex Ballina, PTM Partners’ Michael Tillman, Coral Rock Development Group’s Michael Wohl and Bilzin Sumberg's Nathaniel Dutt.

Construction innovations can only go so far. Developers said that municipalities should be doing more to incentivize the development of below-market-rate housing.

CREI Holdings CEO Raul Rodriguez, whose firm focuses on senior affordable housing, said the combination of Florida's rising insurance rates and the rising interest rate environment are creating a concerning confluence of factors for the older demographic.

"Now more than ever we need we do need that private-public relationship to work harder to get more funding," Rodriguez said. "With interest rates going up, a lot of the people won't even be able to get financing. So what's going to happen? They're going to need more rentals, we're gonna need more rentals, more affordable housing rentals, more workforce housing rentals to be able to provide a home for these people. So that's where we need to start pushing harder on the public-private relationship for more subsidies."

Rodriguez suggested that the federal government, through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, should look to increase its production of housing dedicated for lower-income seniors.

"HUD has been quiet or asleep for the last 40 years in terms of producing housing units on their own," he said. "And I think it's something that has started, looking back on the national level, specifically for elderly people with disabilities, that they gotta get back into the building component of it, working with the municipality."

Michael Wohl, a principal at Coral Rock Development Group, said he thinks local governments need to dedicate more resources to the issue — a housing czar, as he put it — to ensure solutions happen quickly.

"I'm a private sector guy. But I will tell you that there's county land and there's municipal land nobody knows about that should be allocated to affordable workforce housing, putting the land together with the developers together with the the resources needs to be done on a global basis," Wohl said. "And then these cities need to make more of a commitment to it."