Miami Herald: “What’s good for our community is good for business. But Miami-Dade must confront its lack of affordability”

Over the last year, a number of studies and local media reports have shown how the cost of living in Miami-Dade continues to rise while wages remain stagnant. Recently, the Herald profiled Ana Rodríguez, who survived decades as a political prisoner in Cuba only to face foreclosure in Miami. At a summit on Poverty Solutions in December, hosted by Catalyst Miami (the organization I founded 25 years ago to help solve problems like this one), residents, community leaders, academics and public officials agreed that housing affordability is at a critical crossroads in Miami-Dade.

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Miami Herald: “What’s good for our community is good for business. But Miami-Dade must confront its lack of affordability”

Over the last year, a number of studies and local media reports have shown how the cost of living in Miami-Dade continues to rise while wages remain stagnant. Recently, the Herald profiled Ana Rodríguez, who survived decades as a political prisoner in Cuba only to face foreclosure in Miami. At a summit on Poverty Solutions in December, hosted by Catalyst Miami (the organization I founded 25 years ago to help solve problems like this one), residents, community leaders, academics and public officials agreed that housing affordability is at a critical crossroads in Miami-Dade.

Home ownership is already out of reach for too many working families. The median home price in Miami-Dade is close to $350,000, but the median salary is under $45,000 a year. It is virtually impossible for many first-time homebuyers to move forward with their dream of owning a home. For renters, the picture is even worse. More than 60 percent of Miami-Dade residents are paying more for housing than they can afford.

Even young professionals with college degrees making six-figure salaries struggle to find adequate housing in South Florida. During the economic recession of the late 2000s, we saw more young professionals plant their roots here because the cost of living stabilized, and home prices were manageable. But since 2011, we’ve seen home prices soar by nearly 60 percent.

This is unsustainable. We need to grow opportunities for every part of our community, and for all families.

The affordable housing crisis is daunting. But having recognized the problem, we can begin to debate real solutions. There is no silver bullet, and to succeed we must do three things at once:

  • Create a higher-income economy that allows hardworking families to get by.

  • Preserve and maintain the existing stock of workforce housing.

  • Fully utilize the existing tools the County has to invest in workforce housing, and ensure the state fully deploys its resources through the Florida Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

As we continue this conversation, we must better define our future as a community. Where do we want to be at the close of the next decade, and in 25 years? We need to better position our community as the economic hub for the tech sector and truly become a key strategic partner to the Americas. We must ensure that transit systems make us more productive and encourage smart development. And, of course, we must continue to invest in resiliency and prepare ours homes and neighborhoods for the twin threats of climate change: rising sea levels and stronger storms.

My philosophy and approach are simple. What’s good for our community is good for business. We must come together across three sectors — government, business and nonprofits — to chart our future. If families can afford to live comfortably in our community, then our business sector will thrive from that stability.

But before moving forward, we must accept that an affordability crisis has arrived in Miami-Dade. We ignore it at our peril.

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Miami Today, Solar power plants may sit atop Miami-Dade County lakes

Solar power in Miami-Dade may come partly from floating solar power plants, as an item calling for a study of developing “float-o-voltaic” systems on artificial county lakes cleared committee by a 5-0 vote Tuesday.

County commissioners will decide June 4 whether to direct Mayor Carlos Giménez’s administration to study the feasibility and by December deliver a report, which would also detail how to streamline permitting and encourage private-sector competition.

“When we dedicate land, which is scarce, to solar farms, it forces the hard choice between growing things on that land versus energy production,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, the item’s sponsor. “Floating solar has great potential to repurpose these large artificial lakes that otherwise would have no productive use.”

Floating solar power plants, already in large-scale use in Asia, have grown more popular across the globe since nearly 1,000 pontoon-mounted photovoltaic panels were installed in Oakville, CA, in 2008.

Since then, the floating power plants have surfaced throughout the US, prompting a December report from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) showing significant potential for the technology, including the possibility that floating solar plants covering just 27% of stateside water bodies identified as suitable could produce almost 10% of current national power generation.

“We’re expecting it to take off in the United States, especially in areas that are land-constrained and where there’s a major conflict between solar encroaching on farmland,” NREL Lead Energy-Water-Land Analyst Jordan Macknick said in a news release.

Miami-Dade has historically supported policies to improve efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Ms. Levine Cava’s item says, pointing to the county’s December 1993 adoption of a long-term CO2 emission reduction plan and 2008 signing of a national pledge to cut 80% of countywide carbon emissions by 2050.

And there is recent precedent for floating solar here. In March, county commissioners OK’d a nonexclusive 15-year agreement allowing Florida Power & Light to install, operate and maintain solar power equipment on Glide Angle Lake at Miami International Airport.

The deal will yield the county an initial $4,900 monthly rent, which will increase yearly up to 3% based on the consumer price index.

Ms. Levine Cava said at the time that she was “very excited about exploring solar on these water bodies” and noted “hundreds and hundreds of acres of artificial lakes in Miami-Dade where solar could be a tremendous benefit.”

The item, co-prime sponsored by Commissioners Rebeca Sosa and Esteban Bovo Jr., enjoyed broad support across the dais. All but one of the remaining 11 commissioners signed on as a co-sponsor in support.

Commissioner Joe Martinez, the sole holdout then, voted to advance Ms. Levine Cava’s item Tuesday but asked that the report also detail what environmental effects floating solar might have on fish and aquatic plants dependent on sunlight, as well as residential use of the lakes.

“Make sure that’s in there, for the loss of vegetation and all that, as well as the loss of use for recreation,” he said. “I learned how to water ski on a lake.

It’s not only that but the diving, fishing – whatever it might be. Just make sure that’s included… so we can balance it out.”

View the original article here.

WLRN: “Flores Wants To Help Florida Firefighters Fight Cancer Through Insurance Coverage”

Firefighters are at a greater risk of developing cancer than others. According to federal research, they’re also at greater risk from dying from it. But cancer isn’t explicitly part of their insurance coverage in Florida. An effort in the state legislature is underway to change that and momentum is beginning to build.

Indiatlantic resident Jay Post worked as a firefighter in Brevard County for 33 years and retired in 2012. He never smoked yet was  diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017. Last year, he had his vocal chords removed.  

“This is how I will speak for the rest of my life,” he said during a recent senate committee hearing. Post has also lost the ability to smell, and says there’s a problem in the system that needs fixing. 

“Cancer victims in the fire service are becoming younger and younger and younger. I didn’t get mine until I was 67 years old. There are now guys getting cancer in their late 30’s and 40’s.”

That problem is that most health insurance plans for firefighters in Florida don’t cover cancer, leaving thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for a disease that in some cases, will eventually lead to death, long-term or even permanant disability. 

“When these previous insurance rules were written, we didn’t have the knowledge we have today that these jobs are tied directly to this condition. So that, this really is a consequence of working this dangerous job. And that nexus is no longer a question,” says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. 

The links between firefighting and cancer are obvious and research within the past decade have only confirmed those ties. Sen. nitere Flores, R-Miami,  wants to provide firefighters with supplemental policies specifically to address cancer, moving the state in line with 40 others. Flores’ plan also provides greater death and disability benefits for cancer than what’s presently being offered. Currently, workers compensation is the mechanism used in Florida to cover cancer. But Flores says the problem with that is, “you need to prove your cancer, your disease came as a result of one incident, which is virtually impossible to prove.”  

Most firefighters are city and county employees. And adding cancer to their insurance coverage is a cost those municipalities will mostly have to bear. And while Florida League of Cities lobbyist Amber Hughes says they “understand the sentiment of the bill,” she’s not sure it’s workable. 

“We don’t know how to deal with premiums, co-pay, co-insurance, $25,000 cash payout, disability benefit, death benefits,” because Flores’ plan also calls for no out-of-pocket costs for firefighters. 

Despite those concerns the proposal got a strong favorability in its first legislative hearing and is being backed by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also doubles as the state’s Fire Marshall. 

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