Miami-Dade plans to build homes on three campuses for teachers needing affordable housing

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Sydney Walsh/

Miami-Dade County and county school district leaders on Thursday announced a plan to build a number of homes on school campuses that will be rented at affordable prices to qualifying teachers and other district employees struggling in this regional housing affordability crunch.

Three schools are sites where housing will be built or at one location where it’s already underway, district and county leaders said at the daylong Building Blocks Housing Summit hosted by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava at LoanDepot Park in Little Havana.

Ironically, county officials said in March 2018 they intended to do the same thing: build housing on school campuses for teachers who couldn’t afford the lofty home prices at that time. And two of the three sites identified four years ago — Phillis Wheatley Elementary in Overtown and building a new Southside elementary school in the Brickell area — are now targeted for housing in the new plan outlined Thursday. It was unclear Thursday why the intention in 2018 to build homes on campuses that teachers could afford hasn’t yet become a reality.

Miami-Dade County School District Superintendent José Dotres said the collaboration with the county will enable district land to be used to address housing needs for local educators.

“This work will definitely lead to important housing solutions for our community, including our teachers and many of our district employees,” Dotres said.

Miami-Dade’s housing crunch, which really started years before the pandemic began in March 2020, has reached a much greater degree of severity this year, because massive increases in apartment rents and existing home prices have made Miami one of the least affordable places to live in America.

In her Tuesday visit to Miami, U.S. Department of Housing and Development Secretary Marcia Fudge called Miami “the epicenter” of America’s housing affordability crisis. Levine Cava took Fudge on a tour of some area affordable housing projects under construction. In two days in Miami, the nation’s top housing official could see the city’s rising rent costs are forcing families out of their homes.

In April, the county mayor declared a housing affordability crisis in Miami-Dade and prioritized steps like the Employee Rental Assistance Program, which received $13.4 million in federal funding, as part of her new Building Blocks effort to start tackling the challenge.

The Healthy Housing Foundation has committed up to $100 million to invest in affordable housing development in Miami-Dade, and $5 million has been set aside for Levine Cava’s Building Blocks program.

At Thursday’s housing summit, the county mayor said her goal is for 18,000 more affordable or workforce housing units to be built by developers by the end of 2023, on top of 14,000 housing units already in the development pipeline.

“People are desperate,” Levine Cava said. “This housing affordability crisis is affecting everyone. That’s all I hear. When I go out and talk to people, no matter who they are, whether it’s their children who can’t afford to live here or their workforce that can’t afford to live here, or it’s themselves that they’re struggling.”

Among those struggling are some of the employees of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which had a roster of 16,574 teachers for the 2021-22 school year and a total of 34,486 full-time and part-time employees.

Miami-Dade County’s Public Housing and Community Development office will determine which teachers and employees will be eligible based on incomes for the housing the county and school district build on the three campuses.

Officials said Thursday that 150 housing units will be built at Phillis Wheatley Elementary for teachers and other school district employees.

J.R.E. Lee Educational Center in South Miami also will be a site where apartments priced affordably for school employees will be built.

Neither county nor school district officials could give an anticipated timeline Thursday for starting and finishing the planned housing and how many apartments would be built at the South Miami campus.

In December 2021, construction started on Southside Prep Academy in Brickell. The project is designed as an elementary school for about 600 students along with a building of 10 apartments on the campus. Completion is expected in spring 2023.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, Phillis Wheatley Elementary School was misspelled.

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