Peter Licavoli: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became involved in the housing initiatives for Miami?
Hernan Guerrero: I have a BA in Geography, an MS in City & Regional Planning and an MA in Architecture. I grew up as an ARMY/UN "brat" traveling between Latin America the US and Europe. This gave me some perspective on how different development patterns can be from country to country. I was drawn to understanding Urban geography and geopolitical dynamics and wound up honing in on planning and urban design. I have worked in the non-profit, public and private sectors and have taught in after-school as well as university level, which has informed my understanding of the critical needs for improving the built environment to meet our climate change and global population growth challenges.
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?
Hernan Guerrero: The City and County have contemplated mandatory inclusionary zoning and other strategies to incentivize the production of affordable housing. However, the development community was not in favor of IZ as a tool. The City and County also have in-lieu fees for developers to fund affordable housing development.
I believe that the city and county should revisit mandatory inclusionary zoning. I think it will be hard to solve not only the lack of affordable housing but the issue of inequity and lack of sustainability unless we wrap our minds around how we create mixed-income and mixed-use developments. Otherwise, we will continue to concentrate poverty in certain areas, kicking the issue down the line and never fully resolving critical social and environmental justice issues that need to be addressed in order to improve the quality of life for all and capacity for South Florida as a whole to be resilient in the face of sea level rise and climate change.
Peter Licavoli: How do we design a sustainable community as it relates to the issue of gentrification?
Hernan Guerrero: We can't only look at this as a residential or housing issue when it comes to sustainability and gentrification. I think we need to look at these issues as part of a system in which the entire whole does not work if the integral kit of parts are not strong on their own. For instance, it is difficult to consider affordable housing in Brickell, because the cost of land is prohibitive and there is an element of NIMBYism. Affluent residents are not comfortable with the idea of living with low-income residents. On the flip side, it is difficult to recommend mixed-income in less affluent areas such as Brownsville or Liberty City, because people at the higher end of the affordability spectrum may not be willing to live in a neighborhood that has fewer services, retail, and entertainment. For that reason, I think we need to look at is a community development issue and ensure that we plan for mixed-income, mixed-use communities with a balance of office, commercial and residential units that can create opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive and qualified residents to earn a living wage. We have to consider economic development and how we increase the capacity for folks at the lowest end of the economic spectrum to build prosperity for themselves which in turn will enable them to increase their income and ability to pay for housing and other goods.
Peter Licavoli: What role does the architectural design have to play in the affordability question?
Hernan Guerrero: It is clear that the current housing typologies are not helping the affordability issue. Over the last couple of years "micro-housing' has resurfaced as a topic of interest. Architectural historians can help keep into perspective failed attempts of the past when it comes to micro-housing and public housing. At the same time, there is a need to consider new typologies including single-family homes to mixed-use, mixed-income buildings. Designers can help identify whether townhomes, duplexes, single-family with Accessory Dwelling Units are most suitable. They can also help determine the best construction methods and material selection to reduce the cost, speed, and durability of construction.
Peter Licavoli: Are there cities that have best practices on managing housing needs for changing and growing populations?
Hernan Guerrero: Yes, I have heard that Seattle, Baltimore, and Cleveland have identified some solutions that are working. European countries, New Zealand and Australia seem to have some best practices as well.
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?
Hernan Guerrero: I think it is ultimately a question of living up to the standard of being a global city. Increasingly, the most functional global cities have opportunities for people at all ends of the economic spectrum.
Peter Licavoli: Are there other factors we should take into consideration when we think about this issue?
Hernan Guerrero: Yes, housing needs to be looked at as one element of a system. Substandard housing makes people sick and prevents residents from living healthy and productive lives.
Peter Licavoli: What role do you see for community groups and non-profits like ours?
Hernan Guerrero: I believe that non-profits are best positioned and often the only entities that can provide solutions as real estate development ultimately is heavily dependent on the bottom line Return on Investment (ROI), whereas non-profit organizations can advocate for community benefits that are difficult to quantify in terms of ROI, but that will ultimately positively impact the quality of life and revenue for all residents of a city. As employment and quality housing opportunities increase, crime decreases, increasing safety for all; reducing the cost of policing and healthcare for the most economically destitute will reduce the need for supportive services and free up dollars for other necessary programs. When we look at these topics systematically, there is more potential for everyone to win than lose.