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Miami Herald - March 14, 2008

Grants are sought for affordable housing in S. Florida

BY NATALIE P. McNEAL

As South Florida developers find it more difficult to sell housing, they are seeking out alternatives to lower the price.

The Mike Davis Community Workforce Housing Initiative pilot program, named after a former state legislator from Naples, has been around since 2006. The money -- $62.4 million-- is earmarked to fund projects in neighborhoods close to employers, services and transportation and is aimed at helping people in industries such as police, education and health care.

Developments in Pembroke Pines, Miramar, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, Coral Gables and North Miami are vying for funding.

Of the 49 state projects that have applied, 19 have come from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

SUBSIDIES NEEDED

''The only way to make housing affordable for ordinary people is to get large subsidies,'' said Katherine S. Barry, CEO of H.O.M.E.S. Inc.

Barry applied for $4.3 million from the state to subsidize a townhome and apartment development in Fort Lauderdale.

If Barry makes the cut for the funding, she would use the money to knock down prices off her 25, two- and three-bedroom town houses near downtown Fort Lauderdale by $100,000.

The market price for the townhomes now is $250,000 to $350,000.

The Florida Housing Finance Corp. says applicants will know by July at the earliest if their projects are approved for funding.

The state says it's too early to predict how many of the developments will get the money.

''Even though housing prices have come down, they haven't come down enough,'' Barry said.

For existing single-family homes in Miami-Dade, the median price tumbled 15 percent in January from $395,900 the year before to $336,800, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

In Broward, the median dropped 14 percent from $364,500 to $314,200.

Miramar is banking on getting the funding so that it can make the price of its townhomes at its Town Center affordable.

Miami's Lowell Homes started selling the residential units in the Town Center -- townhomes in the $300,000- to $400,000-range and condos from the mid-$200,000s -- in spring 2007.

By December, Lowell Homes pulled out of the project because the costly units didn't sell.

MIRAMAR'S REQUEST

Miramar applied for $5 million to bring the costs of 50 units down by $100,000 hoping to stimulate growth.

''It's the homeowner who will get the benefits,'' said Gus Zambrano, director of Miramar's Economic Development & Revitalization Department.

Pembroke Pines wants to cut the costs of its condos, which will retail for $186,5000 by $40,000 if it gets the $5 million it's seeking.

Miami Herald staff writer Monica Hatcher contributed to this report.