Peter Licavoli: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became involved in the housing initiatives for Miami?
Andrew Frey: I was an urban planner briefly after college, then went to law school and was a zoning lawyer, then in 2011 switched to the business side as a development manager of mostly suburban apartment complexes, and more recently started my own urban apartment development company as well as joined the Fortis team. I became involved with housing initiatives for Miami by starting one: I lead a four-year effort to change City of Miami zoning to accelerate urban housing supply by eliminating required parking for the city’s most common apartment building type.
Peter Licavoli: What are the housing strategies currently being used and what policies could be put in place by the city to help address the scarcity of affordable housing?
Andrew Frey: The problem is not that affordable housing is scarce. The problem is that housing is scarce and thus not affordable. And it is scarce because local governments have made it that way on purpose for decades. To generate enough housing to put a dent in Miami’s massive problem of scarcity and cost burden across all income levels, the only mechanism capable is the private sector. If given the chance, real estate developers would supply housing to keep pace with demand. That should be the centerpiece of any plan for regional housing affordability. But the strategies I see being used are the opposite: government engineering of rent-controlled apartments, and relatively few of them, maybe a few hundred per year. What message does that send to the other 250,000 cost-burdened households in the county?
Peter Licavoli: Our students have visited and created a number of architectural visions for affordable housing projects, can you discuss the development concept and programming for this project?
Andrew Frey: My project at 769/771 NW 1 St is eight apartments in a three-story building on a 5,000 square-foot lot with zero parking. This building type is allowed in vast areas of the City of Miami as a result of the zoning change. The concept is that, for example, if 100 small lot owners build 100 eight-unit buildings, we get 300 more housing units than a single 500-unit building, and we get a better neighborhood. The latter was shown by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s study called “Older Smaller Better”.
Peter Licavoli: How do we design a sustainable community as it relates to the issue of gentrification?
Andrew Frey: The most scientific study of gentrification I know, by Lance Freeman in 2004, found that most neighborhoods of concentrated poverty become more concentrated over time. But my understanding is that growing up in a mixed-income neighborhood as opposed to concentrated poverty is one of the strongest predictors of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. So in most cases, some level of gentrification would benefit residents. The same study found that, among the small percent of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty that become less concentrated over time -- i.e. gentrification -- most experience a reduced rate of displacement of residents. Only a small fraction of a small fraction of poor neighborhoods experienced an increased rate of displacement.
Peter Licavoli: What role does the architectural design have to play in the affordability question?
Andrew Frey: It plays a role, as do other factors, but all those other factors combined are marginal compared to the role of massive amounts of supply.
Peter Licavoli: Are there cities that have best practices on managing housing needs for changing and growing populations?
Andrew Frey: New York in the 1800s. I encourage reading “The Greatest Grid”, which suggests how the public sector can set the conditions for the private sector to build high-density housing that accommodates people from every corner of the globe and adds up, even 100+ years later, to world-class neighborhoods.
Peter Licavoli: Affordable Housing has been called a “wicked problem” because of the multitude of stakeholders involved? What is the incentive for local governments, public and private industry to create more affordable housing in Miami?
Andrew Frey: I would flip that question: What is the incentive for local governments to maintain artificial housing scarcity, to impose massive housing cost burden on their residents?
Peter Licavoli: Are there other factors we should take into consideration when we think about this issue?
Andrew Frey: Two things to keep in mind. First, housing affordability is just one part of overall cost of living, which is just one part of how cities affect human lives. Second, cost of living is affected by housing supply just slightly more than by housing location, which determines cost of transportation and access to jobs.
Peter Licavoli: What role do you see for community groups and non-profits like ours?
Andrew Frey: I encourage all stakeholders to look past easy answers and focus on data. What strategies are scientifically shown to provide the most help to the most people? If I’m not trying to help the most people, is my goal really to help?