Miami officials seek to ease permitting for affordable housing
By Eric Kalis
Miami city officials said last week that they want to help affordable-housing developers by attempting to speed up the permit-approval process.
City Manager Pete Hernandez told city commissioners during last week's meeting that he will engage his former boss, Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess, and other county officials to brainstorm ways to expedite affordable-housing projects.
After commissioners Michelle Spence-Jones and Angel Gonzalez said city officials are not doing enough to help affordable-housing developers get projects started, Mr. Hernandez said he will meet with city department heads and arrange a meeting with county officials to form a permitting fast track for affordable projects.
Mr. Hernandez was an assistant county manager before becoming city manager last year.
"I am committed to doing all I can for affordable housing," Mr. Hernandez said. "It is the highest priority. We will improve upon what we have."
Ms. Spence-Jones, who represents District 5, prompted the discussion after fielding complaints from "many developers who feel it is extremely difficult to get through the building department to get projects permitted. I see huge buildings left and right and wonder how they get built so fast."
An existing option for developers is the building department's after-hours permitting program, said Building Director Hector Lima. Through the program, builders can pay a fee to have plans fast-tracked, Mr. Lima said. It costs $250 per department for four hours of project review, he said.
The after-hours program is a realistic option for many commercial and for-profit residential developers, Mr. Gonzalez said, but non-profit companies and smaller affordable-housing builders cannot afford to take advantage of the program. "I do not have a problem with [the after-hours program]," he said. "But what about the non-profits that are trying to build affordable housing? They do not have the money to pay for that."
The cumbersome permitting process contributes to developers falling behind on affordable-housing projects or failing to deliver at all, Mr. Gonzalez said. "I cannot understand why it takes a year to get plans approved," he said. "That is one of the reasons developers are not performing.
"If we do not want to have non-profits build in the city, then say it. But do not close every single door for people trying to build affordable housing," Mr. Gonzalez said.
City officials should make expediting affordable-housing projects a top priority this year, Ms. Spence-Jones said. "There needs to be something in place to assist the building department," she said.
The building department is one of six city departments involved in the affordable-housing approval process, Mr. Hernandez said. The county ultimately has the lead role in addressing the affordable-housing crisis, he said.
"Some of this falls outside of the city's domain," Mr. Hernandez said. "There are so many things that can throw a monkey wrench into [affordable housing] projects."