Daniella Pierre is an affordable housing advocate speaking from experience. The college-educated professional is in need of affordable housing.
By MICHELLE HOLLINGER
MIAMI – Increasingly, research confirms that a family’s zip code has a significant impact of their children’s overall well-being. From their education, health and well-being to their future earning potential; where a child lives matters.
To underscore the importance of affordable housing and its impact on neighborhoods, the region and nationally, a recent day-long journalism tour afforded local media an opportunity to hear from experts and consumers about the availability of affordable housing in South Florida and its impact of the area’s overall quality of life. The day included several panel discussions, lectures and a bus tour through the Little Havana community to illustrate a housing quagmire that includes an ideally located low-income community being infused with market rate housing well beyond the economic reach of the area’s residents.
Megan Kovach, market leader for Enterprise Community Partners Southeast, a national nonprofit that rates capital, policy and solutions for the development of affordable housing across the country, facilitated a panel discussion that addressed how the dearth of affordable housing impacts on broader community issues like health, education and transportation.
The panelists were Daniella Pierre, an advisor at Miami Dade College and Miami Times columnist; Lisa Pittman, a senior research analyst for the Children’s Trust, and Victoria Mallette, executive director of the Homeless Trust.
Kovach framed the conversation with the news that a 2017 Housing and Urban Development report identified South Florida as the metro area with the highest percentage of low income renters that can’t find affordable housing.
Pierre is one of them. Even though she’s employed full time at Miami-Dade College, she’s “in search of affordable housing.” Much of her work in the community centers around advocating for affordable housing in the rental and home-ownership markets, Pierre explained.
Although research reveals that the availability of affordable housing near transportation “prevents pockets of poverty and has been shown to have no negative affect on surrounding property values,” Kovach shared; there still exists a strong stigma regarding the construction of affordable housing with the usual sticking point being the “not in my neighborhood,” argument.
Pierre said it’s time to remove the stigma. “Far too often, when you hear words like affordable housing…you’re thinking automatically about those that are less than, or left out.
You’re not seeing that as a bridge to a home or a face of a teacher, a first-year police officer, or first year nurse,” many of whom fall into an area in the middle of the housing crisis where they earn too much money to meet the eligibility criteria for traditional affordable housing; but not enough to afford market rate housing throughout South Florida.
“Safe and affordable housing in strong and thriving communities is a launching pad for upward mobility for many of our families,” Kovach said. The availability of affordable housing often translates to an “Availability of opportunity.”
She added, “Are we connected to good schools, good jobs and services that are needed for our daily living…(including) access and proximity to resources. Is there a healthy food store around, healthcare services, parks, transportation and recreation and paths?”
With housing and transportation costs often being the two highest expenses with 67 percent of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent and 22 percent on transportation, it makes it challenging, if not impossible, that even working professionals like the teachers, police officers and nurses Pierre mentioned, and Pierre herself, can afford a decent place to live in South Florida.
“The space that I come in is as someone who is in need of affordable housing, and actually writing about it. I try to change that narrative by dispelling the myth (that only low-income families need affordable housing.)”
A part of the myth, Pierre said, is that if people “go back to school, you can have a better way of living. Well I’ve gone back to school,” she stated. “Until we change the narrative about what affordable housing is and until we start building for people, and building more inclusive communities, we’ll be at this conversation table again and again,” said Pierre, who is also the housing chairperson of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP.