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Miami-Dade County's
"Infill Housing Initiative"
Update on Progress

In 2001 at the Coalition's urging the County Commission adopted the Infill Housing Initiative that provided broad outlines for promoting the development of vacant lots. CLICK HERE to see the Coalition's original "Infill Housing Initiative", only parts of which were included in the County's Ordinance. The Miami Dade General Services Adminstration (GSA) has been implementing the program

Here is a scorecard of the County's Infill Housing Initiative (it compares the accomplishes of the County's program with the objectives outlined in the Coalition's 2001 proposal).

Status Report on How the
County's Program Stacks Up

Convey "Ready to Develop" Parcels
There are thousands of vacant lots in distressed neighborhoods. Most are in private hands. The County's Infill Housing Initiative has focused the small percentage of these already owned by the County (acquired through tax foreclosures). The County has conveyed several hundred to developers thus far.  Many of the lots conveyed have not been in a "ready to develop" condition and some developers have struggled to resolve issues not of their own making.  It is not clear how many houses have actually be constructed on the lots conveyed so far.  Here is how title is transferred: the County puts lots to bid (the listings are found on the website of the County's General Services Administration).  Alternatively, some lots are donated to nonprofits (they must first submit an acceptable business plan for the parcels).  All of the deeds have a 12 month completion deadline enforced by a deed reverter clause. A quiet title lawsuit it almost always required because of the tax deed in the chain of title (this can take months to complete). Many of the lots deeded to the developers need zoning variances because of their small size (as of 12/30/05 the County manager was proposing an ordinance to cure this).  In addition, WASA and DERM permits are not always assured causing unanticipated delay and expense.
Pre-Designed & Pre-Permitted Building Plans
This recommendation of the Coalition has NOT been implemented.  The objective is to hold down the developer's cost and frustration by speeding up the approval process and reducing the amount of pre-development funds needed. The County should make available a variety of designs that have been pre-approved and pre-permitted. This concept goes well beyond the County's "Green Infill Machine" ordinance under which developers who are building multiple units with a single design can get "cookie cutter" approval for that design so that it can be used over and over once it has been approved and permitted the first time). The cookie-cutter program is helpful but the developer STILL has to hire an architect to create the design and he STILL has to hassle with getting it approved the first time that it is used.  The Coalition's proposal, on the other hand, allows any participating developer to simply use one of the pre-permitted and pre-approved designs without charge.
Readily Accessible Subsidized Permanent Financing for Homebuyers
Progress has been made but there needs to be more improvement. Developers need easy access to subsidized mortgage financing for their homebuyers. The good news its that the County makes available subsidized second mortgages for the qualified homebuyers of participating developers through its Surtax and SHIP programs. Gone are the days when the developer has to go through a cumbersome and time consuming RFP process to get an allocation of mortgage funds. More progress still needs to be made in speeding up Surtax/SHIP loan closings once the developer has its Certificate of Occupancy (these delays can last for weeks leaving completed units open to vandalism and causing extra expense for the developer).
Home Ownership Training & Pre-Closing Processing
More progress needs to be made. The objective is to ease the burden and expense to the developer and hold down potential for homebuyer failure. Homeownership training for first-time buyers reduces the potential for future foreclosure. Developers normally don't provide such training. In addition, low income purchasers often have spotty credit histories and need a lot of hands on assistance in qualifying for financing and preparing for closing. The County needs to provide more secure and stable funding for the experienced nonprofits capable of providing this service.
Geographic Focus on Distressed Neighborhoods
The geographic focus of the County's Initiative has not been clearly stated. The Coalition believes that there should be an articulated focus on "distressed" neighborhoods all of which lost population in the last census. These tracks are concentrated in the following communities: Little Haiti, West Little River, East Little Havana, Model Cities (including Liberty City, Edison, and Brownsville), Opa Locka, Overtown, Wynwood, and Allapattah). Regardless of where the County decides to draw the actual boundaries of the infill zone impact fees and water and sewer fees should be automatically waived for any development of single family houses within those boundaries. Subsidized mortgages should be available for a qualified purchaser of any new home constructed within the boundaries. 
Holistic Approach
More progress needs to be made. Putting a few houses into these distressed neighborhoods, by itself, will not necessarily reverse the downward spiral of social and economic conditions. Housing should be done as part of a holistic process that visualizes a neighborhood's future and includes attention to commercial revitalization, job creation, schools, public safety, transportation, etc. The visioning and implementation should be done in close partnership with residents, nonprofits, and the private sector. Click here to see the Coalition's "Neighborhood Development Zone" Initiative.
Strong Coordination & Leadership
The County has created an Infill Housing Task Force but it is made up ONLY of representatives from various County agencies. Its membership should be expanded to include knowledgeable people from the private and nonprofit sectors.  This expanded Task Force should meet regularly and its agenda should include more than merely reviewing the inventory of County owned parcels for possible conveyance to developers. Its agenda should be expanded to explore innovative ways to remove barriers to infill development in distressed neighborhoods.  It's agenda should also include a continuing evaluation of how developers currently in the program are performing.  This would help MDHA to better work with developers who were genuinely encountering barriers and to crack down on those developers who were just sitting on their parcels without developing them.
Post a Comprehensive Inventory of Available Properties on the Web
More progress needs to be made. The County owns a huge number of vacant lots that potentially could be available for re-development. Most of these parcels were obtained by tax deed (see Coalition's Lienfield Initiative). The General Services Administration (GSA) has a complete inventory of these parcels but it is difficult for the public to access.  MANY THOUSANDS OF OTHER VACANT LOTS ARE IN PRIVATE SECTOR HANDS. The Coalition believes that the complete data base inventory of ALL vacant lots should be listed on a County website with the folio number, address, owner, back taxes, code violations, etc. 
Take Some Infrastructure Burden off the Developer's Back
More progress needs to be made. Infrastructure in these neighborhoods is, generally, inadequate and decrepit. While it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to completely do everything that needs to be done, there are small steps that can be taken to give relief to the developer. There needs to be more coordination, for example, with the Public Works Department. The developer, for example, is expected to pay for sidewalks . The Public Works Department has an ongoing sidewalk construction program. Why not better coordination? Short of that, more flexibility in permitting would help. The developer shouldn't be required to build new sidewalks if none of the adjoining properties have sidewalks. Also (in the City of Miami) driveways shouldn't be required if you've got adequate parking on the street. Water permits remain a big headache. Dealing with WASA is always a hassle. They charge the developer a fee from $1,300 to $1,800 but it still takes them 6 to 8 weeks to install the meter PLUS they expect the developer to pay to extend the water line if the existing decrepit infrastructure is inadequate. (Note: Commissioner Carey-Shuler's proposed Ordinance will propose that WASA connecting fees be waived for qualifying infill development..
Clear liens on parcels acquired through the  private market
Developers who purchase parcels through tax deed auctions often find their lots infested with many County liens for code violations imposed against the prior owner.  The County's Housing Agency has an arrangement with TeamMetro to take care of "lot clearance" liens (the developer is required to record a Covenant in the title to insure affordability and no County Commission action is required).  There is still a problem, however, in clearing liens imposed by the Building Department (for the cost of tearing down dilapidated structures prior to the tax deed). The Housing Agency will help in clearing these types of liens ONLY after the developer has finished construction.  Once the "CO" has been granted the Housing Agency will submit the liens to the County Commission for clearance but this takes a month or more to complete. . . meanwhile, the completed house sits vacant.  The Housing Agency should help clear Building Department liens well before construction has been completed.  As with TeamMetro liens the Housing Agency could protect the public interest by requiring the developer to record a Covenant in the chain of title.
Waive Impact Fees for Infill Housing
Despite the apparent exemption granted in the County Code developers who use bank loans for their construction financing are effectively barred from having their impact fees refunded. This is due (we believe) to a flawed interpretation of the County Code by the Department of Planning & Zoning. The Department, as a precondition to issuing the refund mandated by the Code, requires the developer to record a "Covenant" in the Public Record. That, in and of itself, is not the problem. The kicker is that they require that the lender subordinate its mortgage to the Covenant. No prudent (federally regulated) lender is able to do this, and, as a result, developers can not get their impact fees refunded despite the seemingly clear language of the code (see the Coalition's letter to the Department for more detail). The Department's position is that the Covenants are legal in that they are authorized by a "Manual", which while not a part of the County Code, was adopted by the County Commission and which authorizes the Department head, in his or her discretion, to require that such Covenants be recorded (the Coalition does not presently accept the validity of this argument)