There are several misconceptions regards the proposed up-zoning of East Little Havana. While we entirely respect the opinions of those stating them, and appreciate their civic engagement, we disagree with those voices and would like to address them.
Myth 1: Rents will skyrocket, and the poor will be evicted
Some claim that supporting this measure will lead to instant loss of affordability in the neighborhood. We think the concern to this issue is important because the people are what give soul to a community, but the point is unsubstantiated.
First, lets understand that the lowest rents in the area are not in buildings that serve working families or retired elderly. The lowest rents in the area are found in run-down, slum-ish buildings that also account for a majority of the crime, drug-dealing and gang activity of the area. These are not the elements of the neighborhood we want to protect! We must also create the economic incentive to motivate them to renovate their properties. The up-zoning amendment does that.
The next tier up of buildings serves working families and elderly. These buildings generally have much economic life to them, and there is no economic justification for tearing them down. Those buildings will stick around, as will the tenants that inhabit them.
What we DO find in the area is an excess of vacant lots, abandoned for decades and contributing nothing but eyesores to the community. This measure will create the incentive to develop those lots, increasing housing stocks in the area that serve lower and middle income families, and alleviating the intense pressure on tenants.
Myth 2. Little Havana will turn into West Brickell
Some claim that supporting this measure will pave the way to an extension of West Brickell’s condo tower building boom. We appreciate the good intentions of those voicing this concern, but again it is entirely unsubstantiated, and to argue this point instantly reveals a complete lack of understanding as to zoning laws. The proposed up-zoning’s major significance is to raise T-4 zones to T-5-L or T-5-R, which legally permit a maximum of 5 stories. A typical Little Havana lot of 7,000sf would only permit building of 11 units, which given typical unit sizes, would yield a 3 story building. Three stories hardly matches Brickell’s towers, which often reach over 50 stories. Three vs. Fifty? What the up-zoning amendment proposed is hardly “West Brickell” scale, character, dimensions, or personality. Furthermore, the East Little Havana market doesn’t support many condos. The construction that the up-zoning will invite will be of rentals.
Myth 3. Little Havana will lose its identity
Some claim that supporting this measure will lead to a total erosion of the area’s identity. Nothing would be more devastating than to lose their neighborhood’s character, so we appreciate those concerns. There are many factors that give an area its identity, first amongst them its people. The local businesses and the retail of the area go far in curating that experience. This amendment will take steps to creating a fertile economic environment that will bolster and encourage local home-grown businesses, as opposed to allowing the area to be overrun by national chains. A more robust local economic environment better protects a neighborhood’s identity, allowing it to express itself through unique business found nowhere else in the world and encouraging everything from eateries and boutiques to art galleries and community centers. Residents and travelers alike will have access to more, better, and varied options with which to spend their money, contributing to the local economy and helping to provide jobs to local tenants where there previously wasn’t any. The up-zoning amendment will do that.
Myth 4. Existing buildings will be flattened
Some claim that supporting this measure will release a pack of bulldozers to level Little Havana in preparation for a wave of Brickell-style towers. One of Little Havana’s greatest charms is the dense, small-footprint, urban lay-out. To lose this would be devastating, so we appreciate those concerns. But, any assertion to this point instantly reveals a lack of understanding to basic business principals. For the vast majority of Little Havana buildings, there is more value in keeping the existing building then there is in the marginal benefit of tearing down a decent building, and undergoing the enormous cost of building a new one. This measure truly focuses on the many empty lots we have in the area and incentivizing those to be redeveloped.
Myth 5. Historical heritage will be lost
Some claim that supporting this measure will lead to the elimination of our historically significant buildings. They forget to mention that the people who initiated the move for up-zoning, and most strongly support it, are the same people who initiated and most strongly support the historical district! The up-zoning and Historic District were designed to run in parallel. The up-zoning will re-vitalize the area and make re-novation of the historic properties more feasible. And parallel, the up-zoning also means that the historic buildings will have more Transferable Development Rights to sell, which directly makes renovation more feasible.
Myth 6. Only Developers want this
Some claim that supporters of the measure are elitists, engaged in class warfare, and strictly only developers and realtors. This view obstructs dialogue, and creates an environment of competition versus collaboration. Furthermore, its false! A quick review of the most recent commission meeting showed that 70% of the supporters were residents, while roughly only 10% were realtors, and 5% developers. While certainly the voice of local business people skews strongly in support of the measure, there is also a very strong voice of local residents who have been waiting for the situation to improve in Little Havana for too long, and are excited to see that energetic steps are finally being accomplished.
We envision Little Havana as a culturally, socially and economically fertile neighborhood, capable of sustaining vibrant locally-grown businesses; in a mixed-use, mixed-income, medium-density, sustainable, walkable urban tapestry that interweaves historic and modern architecture. In short, we aim to build on the legacy of our past and create a signature neighborhood that in turn we can leave as our legacy.
-Carlos Fausto Miranda