Miami Meltdown: Soaring Rents Leave Residents Out in the Cold

Photo by Joe deSousa

In Miami, the rent has long been too high, writes Jandrick Castro and Madison Paez, co-founders of the nonprofit GI 305. Miami-Dade County has the least affordable housing among America’s top ten most populous counties, with half of households earning less than $57,815 per year. As the city rapidly builds new developments targeting wealthier residents, established communities are being pushed out.

“In this world nothing [is] certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin. Clearly, Mr. Franklin had never been to Miami before, or he would’ve added “the rent is too damn high” to his list of certainties. Soaring rent prices and inflating home values are so commonplace in Miami, that most residents have resigned themselves to believing this is just an intrinsic part of Miami life and culture. But this is far from normal.

Among the top ten most populous counties in America in 2021, Miami-Dade ranks as the least affordable for housing, officially falling under “cost-burdened” status by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.[1] In other words, Miami residents pay the largest percent of their income on rent, more than any other major county in America – a county where half of households earn less than $57,815 per year.[2] As more people migrate to Miami, attracted by its warm climate and competitive tax exemptions, the city has responded by rapidly building residential and commercial complexes. These developments are quickly changing the urban landscape of our city, most offering rates only accessible to wealthier Miami transplants. Local residents are being pushed further and further to the fringes. Nowhere is this displacement more evident than in historically neglected communities like Allapattah, Wynwood, Little Haiti, and Liberty City.

Wynwood, now a world-renowned art district, was formerly known as “Little San Juan” or “El Barrio” for its large Puerto Rican population in the 1950s and 1960s, with a culture that would attract many Cuban migrants in the 1980s as well. Liberty City, home to the first segregated housing projects in the southern United States, once had a thriving Black working class whose descendants now make up the majority of residents. These ethnic enclaves, which have long since defined the culture of Miami, have every right to a share in the growth of Miami’s economy and opportunities. Yet, as Miami’s economy booms and inflates, these communities are being left behind. To make matters worse, we are seeing a drain of capital and human resources, as many young people are finding it more challenging to secure local employment opportunities.[3]

As housing insecurity and economic constraints intensify, the resulting poverty is putting a tremendous burden on the State and existing welfare institutions, for which we are all responsible. To address such a universally afflicting problem, we must explore solutions with universal applications and targeted approaches. This is where guaranteed income steps in.

Guaranteed income (GI) is an innovative initiative where targeted groups of people (individuals, families, zip codes, single-moms, etc.) are provided unconditional, unrestricted, and recurring cash payments – usually in the form of monthly payments – to meet their basic needs. Today, over 100 cities in the United States have GI initiatives in place as a holistic, targeted solution to the very challenges Miami residents are facing.[4]

Models of GI provide anywhere from $500 a month, as is the case in Chicago[5], to $1000 a month in New York.[6] These programs often derive their respective payouts by calculating the expected minimum cash needed such that an individual or a family can meet their basic needs, such as food, housing, and utilities. In Miami, a guaranteed income that is both sustainable and sufficient is somewhere between $500 – $1000 a month, with some estimates placing the number around $650 a month. In such a booming economy that Miami is, this is far more affordable than many traditional welfare programs and has proven far more effective too. For every dollar that we spend lifting residents and families out of poverty, it pays itself back eight-to-tenfold.[7]

In the United States, and especially in Miami, we must change the narrative around receiving welfare or public benefits. The truth is that our welfare system, which ranges in programs from free and reduced lunch in public schools to mortgage interest deductions, actually serves to benefit the wealthiest Americans far more than the poorest. The average household at the top 20% of the income distribution actually receives over $10,000 a year MORE in welfare payments and subsidies than households in the bottom 20%.[8] The system is broken beyond repair, obligating us all to turn to new policies and initiatives like that of guaranteed income.

Won’t people just stop working? If a guaranteed income is set at an amount so that every person can meet their basic needs, and that person decides to leave their place of employment as a result, that speaks much more to the conditions of employment or low-standards of pay than to the willingness to work for an individual. In fact, those who receive a guaranteed income are 2.4 times more likely to find stable employment than those who don’t, according to SEED, a successful guaranteed income pilot rolled out in Stockton, California.[9] Guaranteed income has also been shown to increase levels of entrepreneurship and charitable work, not to mention enabling families to enjoy newfound time to care for their loved ones.[10]

You may also be surprised to find that guaranteed income appeals beyond the traditional republican-democrat dichotomy. Cash transfer policies like guaranteed income have been entertained in various republican and democrat administrations, almost passing into law under President Nixon’s administration.[11] Many staunch conservatives find guaranteed income intriguing because of its libertarian aspects, and its direct impact on increasing purchasing power. Alternatively, many liberal Americans find guaranteed income appealing because of its expansion of the social safety net, a direct charge on poverty. Some see guaranteed income as an appropriate response to the rapid automation of labor we are experiencing as AI technology rapidly replaces traditional forms of labor. This is why republicans and democrats are both beginning to see guaranteed income as a unifying political and economic issue.

Indeed, the Biden administration’s response to the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was largely driven by guaranteed income policy. During the pandemic, the administration signed into law the Child Tax Credit of 2021, an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, or CTC, in which families were additionally provided from $250 – $300 a month in guaranteed income, aside from their yearly tax deductions.[12] The annual Census report found that this expansion lifted 2.9 million children and their families out of poverty within one year, cutting childhood poverty nearly in half.[13] However, Congress allowed this expansion to expire at the end of 2021. Abandoned by Congress, these same children suddenly found themselves back in poverty, with 3.7 million falling below the poverty line in the aftermath of the CTC expiration.[14] The CTC was not perfect by any means, but it demonstrated that providing people with unrestricted, recurring income was a step in the right direction.

Instead, Americans have been left to turn back to traditional welfare programs. But it has become clear that the welfare system so many in Miami rely on is not eradicating poverty and not securing housing for enough folks. These programs offer so many complicated conditions and restrictions which are at best discriminatory and at worst malevolent.  Programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) all attempt to alleviate individual deficiencies, rather than systemic ones, implicating the conditions of poverty on those who suffer from it themselves. Eligibility for each of these programs, and many others, are defined by income cliffs. In other words, increases in income often place individuals’ public benefits at risk, effectively disincentivizing work. These “income cliffs,” as they are called, keep the bottom line where they are, whether this is by design or not, is still in question.

What is true is that Miami, a vibrant city of innovation, is slowly becoming a city of degradation. Not for the transplants who are moving here, or the wealthy tech entrepreneurs who are pioneering a new industrial revolution in our city, but for the everyday residents who make up its foundation. We should explore how guaranteed income can strengthen that very foundation, because without a strong base, any development will eventually collapse. It is time Miami join the growing list of American cities and invest in a Guaranteed Income Program. It is what this crisis calls upon us, and at the very least, we are obligated to try.


Jandrick Castro is co-founder of the start-up nonprofit GI 305. In this role, he is piloting Miami-Dade County’s first-ever guaranteed income program to address the longstanding economic neglect and housing displacement of historic minority communities. Jandrick is committed to the promise of guaranteed income as a solution to both poverty and community violence.

Madison Paez is a social impact entrepreneur and an advocate for reducing poverty and inequality. With a strong belief in the power of collective organizing, she co-founded the community-driven nonprofit GI 305, which aims to advance guaranteed income in Miami-Dade County neighborhoods most vulnerable to poverty, violence, and displacement. Established in the summer of 2023, GI 305 is the first-ever guaranteed income program in Miami’s history, and the second in Florida.

 


[1] Housing Costs a Big Burden on Renters in Largest U.S. Counties, U.S. Census Bureau, December 2022. Available at: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/12/housing-costs-burden.html.

[2] QuickFacts Miami-Dade County, Florida, U.S. Census Bureau, 2021. Available at: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/miamidadecountyflorida/POP060210.

[3] “Addressing Climate Driven Displacement: Planning for Sea Level Rise in Florida’s Coastal Communities and Affordable Housing in Inland Communities in the face of Climate Gentrification,” Butler, Holmes, Jackson, et al., 2021, Florida State University Land Change Institute. Available at: https://lci.fsu.edu//wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/02/Butler-Jackson-Holmes-et-al.-2021-Final-LCI-Report-Climate-Gentrification-Updated-min.pdf.

[4] “Hundreds of Cities Experiment With Giving People Free Money,” Courthouse News Service, November 27, 2023, Available at: https://www.courthousenews.com/hundreds-of-cities-experiment-with-giving-people-free-money/.

[5] Chicago Resilient Communities Pilot Providing Relief and Stability for Chicago Residents, City of Chicago. Available at: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/resilient-communities-pilot/home.html.

[6] The Bridge Project: Our Work. Available at: https://bridgeproject.org/our-work/.

[7] “Poverty is a Policy Choice We Can’t Afford to Make Anymore,” Economic Security Project, September 14, 2023, Available at: https://economicsecurityproject.org/news/cnn-poverty-is-a-policy-choice-we-cant-afford-to-make-anymore/

[8] “Private opulence, public squalor: How the U.S. helps the rich and hurts the poor,” NPR, March 21, 2023, Available at: https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1164275807.

[9] “Preliminary Analysis: SEED’s First Year,” West, Baker, Samra, Coltrera, SEED, 2022, Available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/6039d612b17d055cac14070f/t/6050294a1212aa40fdaf773a/1615866187890/SEED_Preliminary+Analysis-SEEDs+First+Year_Final+Report_Individual+Pages+.pdf.

[10] “Guaranteed Income Cash Policy Talking Points,” Economic Security Project, March 28, 2023, Available at: https://economicsecurityproject.org/resource/cash-policy-talking-points/.

[11] “Universal basic income is here—it just looks different from what you expected,” MIT Technology Review, May 7, 2021, Available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/05/07/1024674/ubi-guaranteed-income-pandemic/.

[12] “The Child Tax Credit,” White House, Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/child-tax-credit/.

[13] “The Impact of the 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit on Child Poverty,” United States Census Bureau, May 2, 2023, Available at: https://www.census.gov/library/working-papers/2022/demo/SEHSD-wp2022-24.html.

[14] “Absence of Monthly Child Tax Credit Leads to 3.7 Million More Children in Poverty in January 2022,” Center on Poverty & Social Policy at Columbia University, February 17, 2023, Available at: https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/publication/monthly-poverty-january-2022#:~:text=The%20monthly%20child%20poverty%20rate,monthly%20Child%20Tax%20Credit%20payments.

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