Miami redevelopment agency pressing for Sawyer's Walk housing help
By Risa Polansky
Though approval of the proposed Sawyer's Walk project in Overtown is still pending, Miami city commissioners, in the form of Community Redevelopment Agency board members, are working to ensure low-income residents can afford to live there.
They last week passed a resolution directing agency Executive Director Jim Villacorta to "work with Miami-Dade County to identify funding for subsidies for potential homebuyers in the Sawyer's Walk project."
The county has pushed for the project — 1,050 affordable-and-mid-income units — to include more affordable housing.
But if it's targeting people who make "no more than 30%" of the area median income, Commissioner Joe Sanchez said, "it's important for us to hold the county, their feet, to the fire."
County officials, he said, need to "put their money where their mouth is."
Inquiries regarding the county's ability to do so were not answered.
However, a planned $137 million in county General Obligation Bond money earmarked for mortgage subsidies was recently deemed illegal. Spending in the county's Building Better Communities bond program must go toward capital projects, its bond counsel says.
An affordable housing subcommittee of the program's Citizens Advisory Committee is to recommend to county commissioners how to reallocate the funds, Robin Reiter-Faragalli, committee chair, said last month.
The mortgage subsidies "were one of the key issues at the time we went out to work to pass the bond issue," she said. "We are a little disappointed at that, but we understand the issue of capital construction vs. mortgage subsidies."
Ian Yorty, interim director of the county's Capital Improvements Department, said that county staff has proposed the $132 million remaining from a total of $137 million be allocated to developing rental housing and, perhaps, building affordable housing.
Critics have condemned the Sawyer's Walk project for what they call a lack thereof.
The developer, Crosswinds, in August promised — in addition to offering 160 units at 80%-140% of the local area median income and giving 50 units to the city's redevelopment agency to be sold also as low-income housing — that both the city and the county may now each buy an additional 62 units to sell as they please.
Still, commissioners at the time expressed concern about potential residents' ability to pay.
"People who have credit can buy," Commissioner Tomás Regalado said. "People who don't have credit cannot buy."
Chairman Angel González agreed: "Building a project is not the problem — the problem is qualifying the buyers."
For those in need of affordable housing, he said, "home ownership is very, very difficult."
The redevelopment agency's recent resolution is designed to make it easier, though the project itself still hangs in the balance.
Sawyer's Walk had been OK'd previously, but a lawsuit by a local activist group overturned the approval.
Commissioners twice last month deferred a re-vote due to absences from the dais but face losing the land should they dally much longer.
The Miami-Dade County-owned Overtown land was given to the city on the condition development begin by Aug. 1 of this year before reverting to the county.
That date has since been extended. Commissioners now have until Dec. 31 to vote before losing the property.