Most real estate developers will cite scarcity of land as one of the biggest hurdles to building affordable housing around Miami-Dade County.
But according to a new GIS mapping tool unveiled this week by the University of Miami, there are actually 500 million square feet of vacant or underutilized land scattered across Miami-Dade County. The land is either publicly or institutionally owned.
The Land Access for Neighborhood Development tool, or LAND for short, was developed by UM’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement (CCE) as part of its Miami Housing Solutions Lab, a free website that provides data and resources to community groups and affordable housing developers.
“We often talk about the fact that land in Miami-Dade is unaffordable or that we don’t have any land left,” said Robin Bachin, director of the CCE. “But we do have land. This tool allows us to identify it and shows us exactly where it is and who owns it.”
The program, which is free to use and available to the public, collects and visualizes data from the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser. It allows users to apply various filters to searches, so they can distinguish vacant, available city lots from county-owned land previously used but no longer needed by government agencies. (They’re called surplus lots.)
Another filter allows users to identify underutilized land owned by institutions such as UM, Baptist Health, Miami Dade College and Habitat for Humanity. It also identifies property owned by faith-based organizations. In other cities around the U.S., developers have formed partnerships with churches to provide affordable housing for their communities.
“With LAND, you can ask questions you couldn’t ask before,” said Jorge Damian de la Paz, the programs manager for CCE. “Real estate developers already have this data. But now community advocates can directly ask their commissioners ‘Why is this land not being used?’”
De la Paz said that many of these lots are too small or scattered to be of use to developers on their own. But the LAND tool can identify surplus land abutting county or city-owned lots, which opens the possibility of assembling parcels into a larger size.
For example, LAND shows 19 surplus lots totaling 32,000 square feet along NW 18th Avenue between 62nd and 71st Streets. De la Paz said that according to public records, no new construction has been built on that stretch since 1981.
But although these lots are scattered along 10 city blocks, there are enough other city- and county-owned parcels in the area to make an assemblage possible.
“The LAND tool can play an instrumental role in developing the affordable housing we desperately need right now,” said Annie Lord, executive director of Miami Homes For All, the non-profit group devoted to combating homelessness.
“Half a billion square feet of vacant or underused publicly owned land could represent an enormous opportunity,” she said. “While we realize not every lot is suitable for this housing, certainly some of it is.”
Other features of the LAND tool include the ability to toggle between street grid views and aerial satellite images and overlays that show Metrorail, Tri-Rail and the rapid-transit corridors to be created by the SMART plan.
The LAND tool was facilitated via a $100,000 investment from Citi Community Development. The data will be updated every two weeks using data from the Property Appraiser, so the tool will provide a real-time snapshot of real estate development.
Further updates will include filters that show zoning designations for every property, existing water and sewer capabilities and environmental contamination.
The LAND tool arrives at a time when city officials are seeking the community’s input as they develop a citywide affordable housing plan. Last fall, the City of Miami and Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center began working on an Affordable Housing Master Plan. Public hearings on the plan will begin this April.
“Land is one of our most precious assets,” Mayor Francis Suarez said during a presentation of the LAND technology at the Miami-Dade Beacon Council on Wednesday. “Tools like this will help us understand exactly what resources we have. We will use it, I promise you.”