Peter Licavoli: As a member of the Coconut Grove Village Council, what housing strategies are currently being used and what policies could be put in place by the city to help address the scarcity of affordable housing?
Marcelo Fernandes: The NCD (Neighborhood Conservation District) overlay is being revised. This effort has been underway for the past 3 years and the CGVC has been very active in this process. One part of this rewrite includes adding density bonus and parking reductions to projects located in the T4 & T5 zoned properties in the high transit corridors. These bonuses are tied to housing affordability to give developers incentive to build workforce housing. The CGVC is also looking to have these same bonus incentives added to the T3 zones in the West Grove neighborhood.
Peter Licavoli: Can you talk about your experience with steel structural systems and how this technique may impact the feasibility and development of affordable housing?
Marcelo Fernandes: Steel is definitely the way to build in the future. It is a recycled product, fast to erect and offers many advantages in design. When using steel structures it also creates opportunities with other items such as insulation, overhangs, foundations and others that are more efficient and less costly than when building with tradition concrete walls and wood trusses. Speed in construction is one of the main factors in lowering costs which will greatly benefit housing affordability.
Peter Licavoli: What role does the architectural design have to play in the affordability question?
Marcelo Fernandes: Design plays a huge role as it is the core basis in creating sustainability and creating a product that is efficient to build and maintain. Without forward thinking design practices that looks to create a total sustainable package, then the project will end up being too costly to build and maintain. True affordable housing is one that is sustainable, high quality materials and low maintenance. This must all be incorporated into the design by the architectural and engineering team and not depend in the owner or builder to try to piece it together.
Peter Licavoli: Do you envision mixed-use programming becoming a viable strategy for the inclusion of affordable housing in a dense urban context?
Marcelo Fernandes: This is a must. Affordability must only be reflected in the cost paid by the resident and no other factor. Quality of life, comfort, opportunities, transportation and education must all the the same as given to their immediate neighbors that are paying market rate. Success of housing affordability is when it is impossible to identify which units are affordable vs market rate in any particular building or neighborhood.
Peter Licavoli: Are there cities that have best practices on managing housing needs for changing and growing populations?
Marcelo Fernandes: One great local example is the work being done by Scott Strawbridge as the Director of Development and Facilities Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale. For the past 7 years Scott has transformed a crime ridden old HUD project into a vibrant community of affordable housing that offers many opportunities to its residents way beyond housing. This was possible through a private / public partnership with the City of Ft. Lauderdale. Government alone was not capable of accomplishing this. This Northwest Gardens Neighborhood proves that there is a successful formula to incentivize private funds to create sustainable and profitable neighborhoods from blighted areas.
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?
Marcelo Fernandes: As Miami is one of the most expensive cities in the country and growing rapidly, the incentive is this current reality we face. We have no option and must change in order to survive. If Miami does not focus on housing affordability it will cause a massive adjustment in values in the future that can greatly affect property values. The wicked problem begins with zoning laws and government incentives. The zoning must be revised to adjust how Miami has grown and its vision forward. Without the proper zoning in place to look at the entire city as a whole, the problem will not be solved. This is basic urban planning 101 and we need to identify the best opportunities and act on them immediately. Since government does not act quickly or efficiently, the private sector must jumpstart the process by creating unsolicited proposals of public/private partnerships and bring new opportunities for consideration. Northwest Gardens in Ft Lauderdale is a great example of this. All stakeholders, including elected officials, residents and business owners, must begin thinking outside the box and embrace new development strategies that offers a sustainable future for all.