Miami is experiencing what is called a construction “boom” but the for many lower and middle income families, this boom is a “bust” as they can no longer afford to live near where work is available.
As a native Miami, I have witnessed the explosive boom of construction over the past few years in this city as an endless stream of new luxury condominium and office complexes have risen to the sky. The downtown area used to be home to recent immigrants and low wage earners that lived in the apartments that once lined the streets. Much of this housing has been razed to make room for new development. No longer able to afford housing in the area, the previous occupants packed their bags and move further away from the center activity and their best possible options for employment and transportation.
The Christian scriptures record that Jesus of Nazareth was frequently denied housing, starting with his birth in a stable. And he knew well what it meant to have “no place”. He frequently had to sleep out in the open, and he lamented that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man (term used to denote Jesus) has no place to lay his head.”
These days, Jesus would have to move out of Miami Dade County or sleep out in the open. As an itinerant carpenter he is far more like the recent immigrants and low wage earners who are being kicked out of the area to make room for the high end condos. What makes matters worse is that the problem is not confined to the downtown area but is being experienced in cities throughout Miami Dade County.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a household is considered to be cost burdened if more than 30% of household expenditures are earmarked for housing. In Miami Dade County, 61% of renter households and 42% of owner households were cost burdened in 2014 making this county the third least affordable housing market in the country. Florida International University recently published The Miami Dade County Prosperity Initiatives Feasibility Study which contains a wealth of information concerning this issue. This report cites statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau which show the average rent in this county skyrocketed from $1500 per month in 2009 to $2500 in 2015, an incredible 65% increase. It simply is not possible for wages to keep up with this increase.
The impacts of the lack of affordable housing are significant. It may mean having to chose between paying for meals or rent or being forced to move in with family members or friends creating cramped living environments. Others may find housing but the distance they must travel to work affects the overall quality of life. The further they are pushed away from their jobs, the more complicated it becomes to find adequate transportation to get to work. Even when transportation exists, the costs of getting to work are now increasing taking a bigger portion of a small pie. However, these are the lucky ones. The reality is that others are simply unable to find housing that is affordable given the wages that they earn and they end up either in shelters or on the street.
Justice demands that more be done to ensure that affordable housing is available to who need it in this county. The time to act is now before the “boom” leaves more residents without an affordable place to call home.