Miami mayor: Need for affordable housing is ‘another pandemic’

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Miami Mayor Francis Suarez speaks to the media during the annual hurricane preparation exercise at the City of Miami’s Emergency Operations Center on May 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. 

The Republican mayors of Miami and Mesa, Ariz., on Tuesday stressed the importance of government intervention to support affordable housing, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our cities are exploding in terms of growth, which means that it’s becoming more and more difficult for the market to provide the kind of affordable housing that is needed,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said at The Hill’s “Affordable Housing” event, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.

“It’s another pandemic, if you will — this need for affordable housing, this need for economic equity in our community,” he told The Hill’s Steve Clemons. “Government can’t solve all the problems, but we can certainly do what we can.”

Democrats have accused the Trump administration of failing to provide adequate federal support for housing. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has proposed significantly expanding the Section 8 housing voucher program and investing $640 billion in affordable housing.

Suarez praised the “opportunity zones” program created by the 2017 GOP tax law and federal support for public-private partnerships, both of which he said are key to his city’s goal of having 12,000 affordable housing units by 2024.

Under the opportunity zones program, governors can nominate low-income and undercapitalized census tracts where, if approved by the Treasury Department, developers can access tax credits for building affordable housing and making other investments in those areas.

On Monday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who helped craft the legislation behind the law, cited the program in his speech at the Republican convention, calling it the “first new, major effort to tackle poverty in a generation.”

Suarez said his city has benefited from opportunity zones because it incentivizes building affordable housing in market-rate neighborhoods downtown.

“We now have the ability to attract the working class in our community that deserves to work and live close to each other, like they haven’t been able to do unfortunately for several decades,” he said.

Critics of the opportunity zone program argue that it ends up benefiting a small group of wealthy investors who get tax breaks that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

Mesa Mayor John Giles said at Tuesday’s event, which was sponsored by Enterprise, said affordable housing is an important issue for Republicans, not just Democrats.

“We’re a very fast growing community and our housing stock…is under intense pressure,” he said.

Both mayors said they were utilizing public-private partnerships to build multifamily affordable housing in their cities, including workforce housing that allows low-income workers to live in the more affluent neighborhoods where they work.

Some Republicans see those projects as denigrating suburban neighborhoods. During her convention appearance Monday, Patricia McCloskey — the St. Louis woman who, along with her husband, pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside her home in June — claimed that Biden and Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning.”

Biden’s housing agenda does not include plans to end single-family zoning, and McCloskey’s comments were seen by many as intentionally stoking racial tensions. At The Hill’s virtual event on affordable housing during the Democratic convention last week, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro said Biden would restore Obama-era housing policies rolled back by Trump.

Tags 2020 conventions 2020 republican convention Affordable housing Arizona Florida Francis Suarez Joe Biden Mesa Miami Opportunity Zones program tax breaks Tim Scott zoning

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