Miami Beach Cando – Affordable Housing Or Art Politics?

Earlier this week, City of Miami Beach commissioners unanimously approved a package of incentives for affordable housing in a new district designated as Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay b.k.a. CANDO (you know – for marketing purposes ala “Health District” f.k.a the Civic Center), making Miami Beach the first city in Miami-Dade County to create a district that attempts to offer affordable housing for artists.

The Arts Neighborhood’s boundaries are 24th Street and North Lincoln Lane to the north, Meridian and Lenox Avenues to the west, South Lincoln Lane to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Some of you may know this area as Collins Park (CANDO, I guess, is much, much sexier), an area currently home to the Bass Museum, the new Miami Beach Regional Library, the Jackie Gleason Theater, the Miami City Ballet, Collins Park, and the ever-so-successful Art Basel Miami Beach.

Does it surprise anyone that Miami Beach would be the first municipality to attempt such a thing even after Wynwood – in the City of Miami – long ago took over as the local cutting-edge art scene?

Kudos to Miami Beach for being the first to attempt to reverse gentrification by keeping and/or attracting the very people who, as a result of their “avant-gardeness”, took South Beach (SoBe) from drug-infested, crime-ridden war zone glorified by the 1983 cult classic, Scarface, to drug-infested, lust-filled, high density, “A-list” adult playground with some of the highest property values south of Manhattan.

But is the City reeeeeally trying to reverse gentrification?

At first glance, it sounds like a blissful marriage between two different worlds, those of developer and struggling artist. However, a closer look at the City’s Planning Board Documents leaves me a bit perplexed and confused. No me huele a tumbe todavia, but…

As it currently stands, the underlying zoning district requires that units in rehabilitated or newly constructed buildings comply with a minimum of 400 square feet and a total minimum average size of 550 square feet. However, one of the recently approved overlay regulations exempts developers from meeting the average unit size of 550 square feet if 25% of the units are reserved for “cultural arts workers”.

“Cultural arts workers” is defined in Section 142-855 of the Planning Board Documents as “anyone who is an artist, or who works in any capacity within a visual or performing arts organization who meets Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines for income eligibility for moderate income”.

“Moderate income” is defined as “households whose incomes are between 51% and 80% of the median income for the area as determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development”.

Now, I like to believe that I produce tastefully designed flyers and other forms of visually captivating promotional material as part of my duties as a real estate agent. Heck, I just finished performing Travis’ “Selfish Jean” from beginning to end while writing this blog (and sounded pretty damn good too).

You see where I’m going with this?

The language used by the City is much too vague and ambiguous and fails to clearly define who qualifies for what, leaving way too much room for interpretation to the powers that be.

Is the bass player in a local band an artist? Is the aspiring novelist/freelance writer who moonlights as a barista an artist? Is the recently graduated architect who assists in the design of a new building in CANDO an artist? How about the guy in Lincoln Road standing in front of the ArtCenter (of all places) dressed in his 60’s-best performing “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels? Is he an artist?

What area are they referring to when determining income eligibility? Is it Miami-Dade County? Is it the City of Miami Beach? Is it zip code 33139? Is it the census tract? Is it township 32? Is it the area encompassed by the CANDO Arts Neighbhorhood?

Will the only “artists” to qualify be the politically connected few who pose for photo-ops – hard hat, shovel, and all – with developers and city officials and later tout the Overlay’s success in exchange for a 400 square foot live/work space?

Or will the struggling artist who discovers new types of pigments and new methods of painting due to lack of resources (i.e. cash) get the opportunity to become part of an economically diverse, self-sustained cohesive neighborhood?

For everybody’s sake, I can only hope for the latter.