Read more articles by Betsy Gardner

By Betsy Gardner • May 20, 2019

Think of the most expensive housing market in America, and New York City or San Francisco is usually top of mind. Those two cities are frequently cited for astronomical rents, which is why the “Miami’s Housing Affordability Crisis” report, published by the Miami Urban Future Initiative in March, shocked many across the country. It found that Miami was the number one metro with the most adults paying more than 35 percent of their monthly income on rent. Even Richard Florida, esteemed urban studies theorist, report co-author, and part-time Miami resident, admitted surprise at the degree to which the South Florida area was “truly unaffordable.”

In the midst of this housing crisis, researchers at the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement (CCE) made a startling discovery: 500 million square feet of empty or underutilized land in the city. They uncovered this through the Land Access for Neighborhood Development, or LAND tool, which they developed as part of the  Miami Affordability Project. To build LAND, Bachin’s team used data from multiple sources including the City of Miami’s Housing and Community Development, City of Miami Planning and Zoning, and the Miami-Dade County Open Data Hub.

This mapping tool reveals an opportunity to mitigate expensive rents by developing affordable housing. Robin Bachin, assistant provost of the CCE and the project leader, and Jorge Damian de la Paz, the CCE program manager, acknowledge that some of the land parcels may be uninhabitable for environmental reasons or unbuildable because of zoning laws. But they believe that LAND could transform how both the city and county governments view land use and housing.

When users first open the LAND tool, a colorful, zoomed out map of the Miami metro area appears. White and yellow spots ringed in translucent green dot the landscape, outlining transit centers that are connected by a mass of existing and proposed rail lines. A legend on the lower right explains these symbols, and expands to offer a host of other display options including bus and rapid transit corridors.

LAND Map
Fully extended legend shown, including option to highlight city v. county land.

 

These are important for understanding how affordable housing could map onto unused/underused lots near public transit, but switching all of them off and zooming much farther in reveals the individual land parcels. On the left, a simple key allows users to show all the unused/underused land by owner, categorized as Governmental, Institutional, and Surplus. Clicking each allows users to break down owner categories even further; all of these can be switched on or off so users can get granular about ownership.
 

LAND Map zoom
Governmental land is gray, Institutional is teal, and Surplus is blue.

Governmental land is gray, Institutional is teal, and Surplus is blue.

If users click the pink calculator and then a plot, they can get data on the lot size; clicking the calculator and multiple plots gives the combined lot sizes. Calculations for total area and bond prices is only available for certain city-owned uncommitted properties. This is useful for modeling land acquisition and purchasing scenarios.

LAND Map zoom to plot
Selected lot owned by Baptist Health, with square footage and address data shown.

LAND is an excellent, visual example of the importance of open data access. Bachin and de la Paz wanted to “democratize data” and give everyone access to information that was traditionally sequestered in city departments or with developers. Hopefully, community members and housing organizers will be empowered by this information to develop and advocate for new solutions to the affordable housing crisis in the Miami metro area.