When the leadership of Miami REALTORS® began brainstorming out-of-the-box responses to their region’s affordable housing crisis, they considered everything from housing teachers at school sites to constructing homes within parking garages. The concept they decided to pursue was repurposing shipping containers into affordable dwellings. By developing two discarded containers into a 480-square-foot site-built home on land contributed by the county, they learned exactly what regulatory barriers stood in the way of this ingenious solution with the help of a REALTOR Party Community Outreach grant. The process took over six years from start to finish, but the improvements the REALTORS® were able to effect in the regulatory system has cleared a significant path forward for future development of affordable housing.
“The battleground of affordable housing is going to happen in the zoning and planning departments in all of our cities throughout the country,” states Miami REALTORS® 2022 Board Chair Fernando Arencibia, Jr. in the video. Danielle Blake, the board’s Chief of Commercial, agrees: “The principal takeaway was not the unit, but the process. Our mission was to study the barriers to try to make this a viable solution for other builders.” The prototype was developed in partnership with NAR, Miami-Dade County, and the City of South Miami, and was sold to a buyer whose income is 80% of the area median; by restrictive covenant, the property must remain affordable for a minimum of twenty years.
In developing the property, the REALTORS® encountered regulatory roadblocks that added significant expense and costly delays. Before they were able to pull permits, for example, a review committee insisted that $25K worth of landscaping be included in the proposal; beyond the exorbitant and unexpected cost, this caused a delay of eleven months. Another maddening order-of-operations was exposed in connecting the property to water and sewer lines: each process had to be conducted separately, requiring the entire block to be re-surfaced each time. “All this ultimately increases the cost to the buyer,” notes Blake, “and is completely counter to our goal of creating affordable housing.”
By identifying such non-sensical irregularities of the zoning code, the process of developing the container home was the first step toward correcting them. The exercise also brought about the permitting of Accessory Dwelling Units on lots zoned for single-family homes, which will open up huge opportunities for additional affordable units, says Blake. In addition, it prompted the city to provide flexible zoning for smaller non-conforming lots so more affordable units could be built, and established eco-friendly container homes as viable dwellings for single lots and as ADUs. The net achievement of this single prototype will be a reduction in overall housing costs in Miami-Dade County.
The REALTORS® are leveraging their accomplishment by sharing highlights of their experience and advocacy on a dedicated webpage and in the new video. It features interviews with the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Arencibia, Blake, and others directly involved in the development of the model container home – including the new owner, who says he feels like he won the lottery. He reports that every weekend, somebody knocks on his door out of curiosity. “And we get phone calls all the time,” adds Blake. “It took an enormous effort to create this modest home, but it is clearly the start of something big.”
To learn more about how Miami REALTORS® is addressing housing affordability, contact Danielle Blake, Chief of Commercial, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 786.517.7223
For more information, view the Community Outreach Grants: Miami REALTORS® Cut the Red Tape for Housing Affordability https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRYeeeXbJdM;
REALTOR Magazine Level Up: Advancing Homeownership: A discussion about innovative ways to advance homeownership in today’s market shortage https://www.nar.realtor/magazine/level-up/level-up-advancing-homeownership or visit https://www.miamirealtors.com/containerhome