An issue of ethics in municipal government was largely debated Monday as the city's grant coordinator and a pair of private investors faced off on matters regarding a planned city-led housing development.
Miami City Council members unanimously approved a $160,000 land purchase that will allow the city's community development office to move forward with plans it believes will not only improve the existing housing stock and boost the city's deficient housing market, but will provide new housing outside of the floodplain and put low- to moderate-income families into quality homes they can afford.
Larry Eller, the city's community development grant coordinator, told council members that state and federal grant dollars will be used to “incentivise” the purchase of homes with up to $40,000 in subsidies to buyers who meet the requirements of the program.
The incentives, according to city officials, will bring the cost of the estimated $110,000 to $120,000 homes down to a purchase price that the majority of area residents can afford.
According to Eller, a Community Development Block Grant will be used to purchase the land and build infrastructure, to include paved streets with curbs, guttering, lighting and utilities.
Developer Robin Still and local attorney and investor Jim Thompson voiced their opposition Monday, saying that the city is competing with private industry - specifically Still Construction which developed a series of lots that sit adjacent to the city's proposed housing project.
Still's development includes 17 lots along Q Street where he has already invested in infrastructure and posted the sites for sale, along with two spec homes.
“You are going into competition with me - plain and simple,” Still said. “I want to know why.”
Though the city has already circulated bid packets for builders to review and is encouraging local contractors to participate in the building of the homes, Still said it is the developers who will suffer.
“I have invested in your community,” Still said. “Now, you are going to use my tax dollars to compete against me … What about my investment in your community? You are basically telling me that you don't care about my investment.”
Eller argues that the city's efforts are targeting low to moderate income families who would not otherwise have an option to purchase new housing.
“Without some type of government assistance, a majority - about 60 percent - of all Miami households can afford homes costing no more than $87,497.50,” Eller said. “These families cannot afford private sector homes.”
Brandi Garcia, a 34-year-old Miami resident, is among those who welcome the city's plan.
Garcia and her three children have lived in a temporary trailer provided the Federal Emergency Management Agency-after floodwater inundated her home in July. Insurance covered Garcia's mortgage, but left her with only $200 to spare.
“We are living in a FEMA trailer with nothing,” Garcia said as she choked back tears and implored the council to find a way to “make this work.”
Upon learning the news of the city's decision to move forward with plans to release the grant money for the land purchase, Thompson said he still believes it is a waste of taxpayer dollars and stands firm on the arguments he waged Monday.
Thompson said Miami residents would be better served if the city invested it money into rehabilitating existing homes.
Thompson said a $120,000 home carries a responsibility of maintenance and upkeep that comes with the purchase of a $120,000 - not an $80,000 home.
“Get people into houses they can afford - or else you are wasting my money and your money, too,” Thompson said.