Miami consistently tops lists of the most expensive cities in the nation due to the high costs of housing and transportation. Nearly half of the households in the region are cost-burdened—that is, they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Adequate provision of affordable housing has been linked with enhanced opportunities for educational success in children, improved health outcomes, and local economic stimulus, all of which are significant areas of need for many of Miami’s struggling communities. The development and implementation of a comprehensive initiative to address affordable housing needs is essential to the long-term economic growth and social well-being of Miami. In 2011, the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement launched our Focus on Affordable Housing to partner with community organizations, address critical issues and gaps, and promote the creation of quality affordable housing for all. Last year, we launched the Community Scholars in Affordable Housing Program, which seeks to address affordable housing by building capacity and networks among housing and community development professionals in Miami, giving them the training and tools needed to affect change on this critical issue.
Community Scholars in Affordable Housing is an innovative program designed to familiarize emerging leaders and young professionals with best practices in community development and affordable housing policy and practice in the United States. The program was co-developed by the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement and School of Education and Human Development, the South Florida Community Development Coalition, and Catalyst Miami, and explores techniques and concepts in the development of affordable housing. The curriculum covers special issues facing South Florida, including funding, design, special-needs populations, homeownership, advocacy, markets, and engaging stakeholders. Sessions feature local and national experts in affordable housing and community development, as well as peer-to-peer learning in a “community of practice” model. Participants have the chance to acquire skills and build networks that will lead to enhanced opportunities in the field of affordable housing, and are drawn from non-profit, for-profit, and government sectors including development, real estate, finance, design, public administration, community and economic revitalization, or related fields. The Scholars also undertake capstone projects on a critical issue, developing programs to address a variety of housing issues and at the same time building capacity within their organizations.