Community Voices, Government, Politics

Opinion: The “Missing Middle”

How to Provide More Great Housing for Miami

Anthony Parrish is a current member of the City of Miami Planning Zoning & Appeals Board and past chair of the Historic & Environmental Preservation Board. He has developed new Bahamian-styled housing and commercial buildings in Little Bahamas for several decades. He wrote this opinion piece for the Spotlight

Can the Miami 21 zoning code, which governs most of what’s built in the City of Miami, help resolve Miami’s most urgent problem, the lack of sufficient “attainable” housing? That means mostly rental apartments of varying sizes for families making $80,000 or less.

Recently, a decade after the code’s passage, the Miami 21 Task Force proposed revisions to the zoning code, including suggestions to help alleviate our housing shortage. The City Commission has ignored those recommendations, and the problem grows. There are far too few residential units to meet the demand.

One proposed solution, the State of Florida’s Live Local Act, allows big developers to produce rental units locked into affordability for 30 years by overriding local zoning codes with tall apartment buildings and waiving some or all on-site parking requirements. What effect this will have remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, let’s not ignore a potentially easier, small business approach. There are property owners and architects eager to build small apartment buildings for a variety of tenants—the so-called “missing-middle”—between a house/duplex and a five-story or higher complex. There are also tenants willing, as a condition for being able to lease the apartment, to live without a car in a well-located and well-designed place that can meet their budget. All that is needed is relief from the code in just two areas: density and parking.

Imagine you own a standard 5,000-square-foot property zoned to allow an apartment building. You’d build one if it makes economic sense for you. Your architect says the code’s density specifications allow you to build up to 36 units per acre, covering 3,000 sq. ft. of your land, with three stories up to 40 feet. But you must supply 1.5 on-site parking spaces for each apartment.

You do the math and realize that your lot is only about one-eighth of an acre, so you can only build four apartments with the six required parking spaces. The land for just the parking spaces and driveways would take up most of the ground floor, leaving just the top two floors for the apartments. That would mean each of the apartments would be a large four-bedroom, two-bath unit, which would rent for at least $4,000 per month, to cover the cost of construction. That would be more than families making $80,000 or less could afford.

You go to your city commissioners and say, “Look, if you’ll allow me to build a three-story building of 12 one- and two-bedroom units with no required parking, I can rent them for $1,500 to $2,500 per month.”
Easy-peasy, except most people like or need having a car, which is why the code requires copious parking everywhere. Because public parking garages are too few and expensive to build, and nearby private parking lots and garages usually only accommodate their own needs, something has to give

The solution is to provide well-accessed, comfortable, and affordable apartments for those people who are willing in return to give up the convenience of having a car.

So how do we change density and parking in Miami 21?

For parking, first eliminate the requirement that parking waivers already in the code be heard by the City Commission—a backward step the Commission took last year.

Second, follow through on the Miami 21 Task Force proposed additional parking waivers that will reduce the need for required parking.

Third, allow any apartment-zoned land within walking distance of a Metrorail station to have a 100% parking waiver while allowing close-by commercial businesses and churches to rent their unused parking in the evenings and weekends. Drop-off parking spots for Uber, Lyft, and Freebee could be required where new apartment buildings are built.

To increase the number of attainable apartments, all that’s required is a change in the city’s comprehensive plan to increase the density from 36 to 72 units per acre while leaving the maximum height as it is. It’s mostly the height (and the additional traffic) that bothers neighbors, not the number of apartments.

Two simple actions—addressing density and parking—would enable small business owners, developers, and builders to start producing market-rate attainable housing throughout the apartment zones that already exist in our city’s neighborhoods.

A frequent contributor to the Spotlight, Anthony Parrish is a member of the Planning Zoning & Appeals Board and former chair of the Historic & and Environmental Preservation Board.

For a summary of the Sept. 2021 recommendations made by the Miami 21 Task Force, click here.

For a summary of the Live Local Act from the Florida Senate, click here.

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