EQUAL JUSTICE BULLETIN
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.



Preserving Affordable Housing on Miami Beach - 3/28/05

Recent advocacy by Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. (LSGMI) and Florida Legal Services preserved affordable housing for low income tenants. The advocacy involved an aging 34 unit complex in Miami Beach known as Villa Maria Apartments. Its rents were affordable due to the "project based" Section 8 contract between the owner and United States HUD. The building had also been recognized as an historic structure by the City of Miami Beach. Despite the fact that there is 12 years remaining on the Section 8 subsidy the owner determined that there were structural deficiencies in the building and, accordingly, he asked the City to declare the property "unsafe". If the building were declared unsafe it could be ordered demolished despite the historic designation. The tenants would be relocated, most likely far from Miami Beach and the project based Section 8 assistance would be lost. In addition, the land, if sold without the historic designation and the project based Section 8 assistance, could be developed as high end market rate condominiums.

The legal services lawyers successfully helped the tenants to oppose this plan. As part of their advocacy they participated in a meeting between United States HUD and owner and convinced HUD not to approve the owner's request to cancel the Section 8 contract. In addition, they worked with the Miami Beach Housing Authority, the Miami Beach City Commission, and Miami Beach CDC (a nonprofit developer who is a client of LSGMI) to fashion a proposal that would allow Miami Beach CDC to purchase the property so that it could be substantially rehabilitated and preserved as affordable housing for the tenants.

After the City declared the building unsafe the attorneys appeared before the Unsafe Structures Board on behalf of the tenants and helped to convince them to allow more time for the purchase by Miami Beach CDC to go through. They also appeared at a hearing in the lawsuit filed by the prospective buyer and which resulted in an amicable resolution. Meanwhile, Miami Beach CDC was waiting in the wings. LSGMI had earlier helped them to enter into a purchase contract that specified that they were to be the 'back-up" buyer in the event that the primary purchaser was unable to close. The settlement of the lawsuit resulted in Miami Beach CDC being able to purchase the property.

Miami Beach CDC is using federal HOME funds (through the City) and other subsidy to complete the rehabilitation of the property. Miami Beach CDC plans to use the parking lot that came with the building to construct an additional 34 units of new affordable rental housing.

Representing one group of tenants were LSGMI attorneys Barbara Lanshe and Clare Casas. Representing another group was Florida Legal Services attorney Chuck Elsesser. LSGMI's community development attorney John Little assisted Miami Beach CDC to negotiate the back-up purchase contract and to create the LLC subsidiary that took title to the property at the closing.

Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.