Can Anything Be Done About Miami-Dade’s Growing Prosperity Gap?

Jun 9, 2016

Ernest Bellamy is an architectural designer and native Miamian. At 32-years-old, he decided to go back to school to get his master's degree, but decided that even with a full ride to the University of Miami opportunities looked better outside of Miami.

Ernest Bellamy with the financial spreadsheet that contributed to his decision to leave Miami for graduate school elsewhere.
Credit Wilson Sayre / WLRN

He is one of the many individuals who have been affected by the prosperity gap that has grown in Miami-Dade County since 2000. That’s the overarching finding of a study we reported on when it came out from the Florida International University Metropolitan Center.

The study shows wages are down, in some cases way below what they were in 2010 when adjusted for inflation; jobs that are being added are in lower-wage industries, and housing costs continue to be a burden for many households.

For Bellamy, housing costs were a huge sticking point. In Pittsburgh, where he will be moving to start studies at Carnegie Mellon University, he says he can get much more per dollar than in Miami.

See the spreadsheet Bellamy used to evaluate the costs of going to two different schools. Does living in Miami make financial sense to you? Tweet us @WLRN.

“Pittsburgh is one of those cities that really wants young professionals to invest in being part of their city and being part of making their city better,” Bellamy points out, in contrast to Miami.

“I’ve always heard stories about the brain drain and I was like ‘this will never happen to me,’” said Bellamy, but “when all the cards on the table, I became one of those individuals that are now leaving.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Ultimately, however, the Metropolitan Center study outlines five programs Miami-Dade County could use to start reversing the trends that Bellamy sees as pushing him out. The suggested Prosperity Agenda include seeding: social enterprise accelerators, community land trusts, community benefit agreements, children’s saving accounts and employee-owned business cooperatives.

The idea is the programs would be rolled out as pilots with future expansion possibilities. The initial phase will cost $9.6-$10.2 million and touch up to 2,310 households.

“Hopefully this will provide the ammunition that we need, the momentum to tackle some of these challenges -- and there are definitely things we can do,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

Levine Cava says she would like to move forward with all of the programs.

“We have an opportunity to not just think about income but to think about assets. So these are all strategies that build wealth, not just disposable income and that is the long term solution,” said Levin Cava.

SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS

1) The commission has already passed legislation paving the way for a community land trusts to start work in the county. These trusts help maintain reasonably priced housing units by buying land near urban or transit centers and either leasing units or allowing owners to purchase property on the land. Since the land is owned by the non-profit, it is less subject to economic pressures to bring units up to market value.

2) Another one of the suggested measures outlined in the study is a children’s savings account program. Participating families would put up a certain amount of money to be matched by the county for use in secondary education. The continuation of accounts could be tied to meeting certain educational milestones, like certain scores on the SAT or successful completion of a financial literacy programs.

An initial $660,000 investment in this program would seed around 2,000 savings accounts over two years.

3) Social enterprises, or social entrepreneurs, use business models to tackle some social need as opposed to working on a volunteer model. Incubator and accelerator programs help these sorts of companies or businesses enterprisesget  off the ground by providing investment connections, business advice or technological support.

The study recommends building on existing organizations that do this type of work by setting up three social impact accelerators, each admitting 32 businesses a year and providing $20,000 in capital investment to each client company.

4) Community benefit agreements are one of the less well-known methods of affecting change in a community. These agreements require developers or business owners to deliver specific things to the community in exchange for the privilege to build or set up shop. These sorts of agreement can be to pay a living wage, hire individuals from specific communities, set aside a certain number of units for affordable housing or build public parks.

Miami-Dade County currently has a voluntary inclusionary zoning program, which gives developers density bonuses if they make a certain percentage of living unites affordable.

In lieu of this, these developers can pay into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund instead of constructing their own affordable units.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan suggested that she might look into making these requirements mandatory.

5) The final suggestion of the report is to invest in employee-owned business cooperatives. Employees own, manage and govern the business collectively. This has worked in instances where the owner of a company wants to retire and there is no one to take over. Instead of closing up shop, the employees can buy out the owner and all own a stake in the future success of the business.

Commissioner Levine Cava says this could be a useful model in the agricultural business in her district.

“Farmers that own the land are aging out,” said Levine Cava, “and they’re not producing children who want to manage the farms going forward. So, we’re hopeful that we can introduce this as a strategy to our farming community and other manufacturing enterprises.”

The study suggests developing five employee-owned businesses each with 10 employers and estimates that would cost about $1.5 million.