October 15, 2020
In a new paper from real estate economist Peter Linneman, Miami ranks fifth among U.S. cities for job recovery amid the pandemic—a significant accomplishment in an economy known for tourism and nightlife, two sectors that have been strongly impacted by government-mandated shutdowns. However, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, this week’s guest on the Walker & Dunlop webcast series, would argue that the diversity of his city’s economy is a major factor in its resilience.
“There’s a misperception that Miami is only about its nightlife,” Suarez told Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker. He cited Blackstone’s recent decision to establish an office there, primarily for its tech employees, to illustrate his point that “Miami is becoming a tech city.”
Arguably another factor in the recovery has been the Suarez administration’s handling of a pandemic that has tended to hit densely-populated areas, such as Miami-Dade County, harder than more sparsely populated locales. Suarez described the “very delicate balance” between keeping residents safe and reopening the city’s economy.
“You’ve got to make tough choices,” Suarez said on Wednesday’s webcast. “You have to clearly articulate them, and they have to be apolitical.” By requiring masks at businesses that other municipalities may have been slower to reopen, he said, Miami was able to reduce its daily COVID-19 infection rate by about 90%.
Longer-term, Suarez said, “the message is that it’s going to be okay. We know it’s going to be okay because we were doing great” before the pandemic hit. He said Miami’s “entrepreneurial spirit” is what it made it special, along with the diversity of its population.
That being said, Suarez discussed some of the challenges facing Miami. One of them is climate change and its implications for a coastal city facing the potential of increasingly severe hurricanes. To that end, Miami voters enacted the $400-million “Miami Forever” general obligation bond to finance resiliency projects.
Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, “we became the most wind-resilient city on the planet,” Suarez said. “But we need to become the most water-resilient city, too.”
Another challenge is housing prices. “We live in one of the least affordable cities in the country,” due largely to Miami’s growing appeal to investors from across the globe, said Suarez.
To help bridge that gap, the city in 2018 established a workforce/affordable housing mandate for new construction in the Omni district, a fast-growing neighborhood that otherwise has seen only high-end rentals or condominiums. The inclusionary zoning represented a “donut hole” identified in a feasibility study conducted by Walker & Dunlop, Suarez pointed out.
Replays of the Oct. 14 webcast are available by clicking here.
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