Panel ad­dresses stub­born af­ford­able hous­ing stigma

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHELLE HOLLINGER [email protected]

MIAMI – In­creas­ingly, re­search con­firms that a fam­ily’s zip code has a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact of their chil­dren’s over­all well-be­ing. From their education, health and well-be­ing to their fu­ture earn­ing po­ten­tial; where a child lives mat­ters.

To un­der­score the im­por­tance of af­ford­able hous­ing and its im­pact on neigh­bor­hoods, the re­gion and na­tion­ally, a re­cent day-long jour­nal­ism tour af­forded lo­cal me­dia an op­por­tu­nity to hear from ex­perts and con­sumers about the avail­abil­ity of af­ford­able hous­ing in South Florida and its im­pact of the area’s over­all qual­ity of life. The day in­cluded sev­eral panel dis­cus­sions, lec­tures and a bus tour through the Lit­tle Ha­vana com­mu­nity to il­lus­trate a hous­ing quag­mire that in­cludes an ide­ally lo­cated low-in­come com­mu­nity be­ing in­fused with mar­ket rate hous­ing well be­yond the eco­nomic reach of the area’s res­i­dents.

Me­gan Ko­vach, mar­ket leader for En­ter­prise Com­mu­nity Part­ners South­east, a na­tional non­profit that rates cap­i­tal, pol­icy and so­lu­tions for the de­vel­op­ment of af­ford­able hous­ing across the coun­try, fa­cil­i­tated a panel dis­cus­sion that ad­dressed how the dearth of af­ford­able hous­ing im­pacts on broader com­mu­nity is­sues like health, education and trans­porta­tion.

The pan­elists were Daniella Pierre, an advi- sor at Miami Dade Col­lege and Miami Times colum­nist; Lisa Pittman, a se­nior re­search an­a­lyst for the Chil­dren’s Trust, and Vic­to­ria Mal­lette, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Home­less Trust.

Ko­vach framed the con­ver­sa­tion with the news that a 2017 Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment report iden­ti­fied South Florida as the metro area with the high­est per­cent­age of low in­come renters that can’t find af­ford­able hous­ing.

Pierre is one of them. Even though she’s em­ployed full time at Miami-Dade Col­lege, she’s “in search of af­ford­able hous­ing.” Much of her work in the com­mu­nity cen­ters around ad­vo­cat­ing for af­ford­able hous­ing in the rental and home-own­er­ship mar­kets, Pierre ex­plained.

Al­though re­search re­veals that the avail­abil­ity of af­ford­able hous­ing near trans­porta­tion “pre­vents pock­ets of poverty and has been shown to have no neg­a­tive af­fect on sur­round­ing prop­erty val­ues,” Ko­vach shared; there still ex­ists a strong stigma re­gard­ing the con­struc­tion of af­ford­able hous­ing with the usual stick­ing point be­ing the “not in my neigh­bor­hood,” ar­gu­ment. Pierre said it’s time to re­move the stigma. “Far too of­ten, when you hear words like af­ford­able hous­ing… you’re think­ing au­to­mat­i­cally about those that are less than, or left out. You’re not see­ing that as a bridge to a home or a face of a teacher, a first-year police of­fi­cer, or first year nurse,” many of whom fall into an area in the mid­dle of the hous­ing cri­sis where they earn too much money to meet the eli­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for tra­di­tional af­ford­able hous­ing; but not enough to af­ford mar­ket rate hous­ing through­out South Florida.

“Safe and af­ford­able hous­ing in strong and thriv­ing com­mu­ni­ties is a launch­ing pad for up­ward mo­bil­ity for many of our fam­i­lies,” Ko­vach said.The avail­abil­ity of af­ford­able hous­ing of­ten trans­lates to an “Avail­abil­ity of op­por­tu­nity.”

She added, “Are we con­nected to good schools, good jobs and ser­vices that are needed for our daily liv­ing… (in­clud­ing) ac­cess and prox­im­ity to re­sources. Is there a healthy food store around, health­care ser­vices, parks, trans­porta­tion and recre­ation and paths?”

With hous­ing and trans­porta­tion costs of­ten be­ing the two high­est ex­penses with 67 per­cent of renters spend­ing more than 30 per­cent of their in­come on rent and 22 per­cent on trans­porta­tion, it makes it chal­leng­ing, if not im­pos­si­ble, that even work­ing pro­fes­sion­als like the teach­ers, police officers and nurses Pierre men­tioned, and Pierre her­self, can af­ford a de­cent place to live in South Florida.

“The space that I come in is as some­one who is in need of af­ford­able hous­ing, and ac­tu­ally writ­ing about it. I try to change that nar­ra­tive by dis­pelling the myth (that only low-in­come fam­i­lies need af­ford­able hous­ing.)”

A part of the myth, Pierre said, is that if peo­ple “go back to school, you can have a bet­ter way of liv­ing. Well I’ve gone back to school,” she stated. “Un­til we change the nar­ra­tive about what af­ford­able hous­ing is and un­til we start build­ing for peo­ple, and build­ing more in­clu­sive com­mu­ni­ties, we’ll be at this con­ver­sa­tion ta­ble again and again,” said Pierre, who is also the hous­ing chair­per­son of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE HOLLINGER FOR THE SOUTH FLOR­IDA TIMES

Daniella Pierre is an af­ford­able hous­ing ad­vo­cate speak­ing from ex­pe­ri­ence. The col­lege-ed­u­cated pro­fes­sional is in need of af­ford­able hous­ing.

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