By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
What if there was a crisis in Broward County and the leaders responsible for helping to solve it didn’t bother to show up?
We just found out. Amid a “housing affordability crisis” that the CEO of the United Way of Broward recently described as “the predominant issue affecting Broward residents,” the 15-member Broward Housing Council canceled its June 24 meeting “due to a lack of quorum,” its website says.
Worse. Two ostensible public servants on the board haven’t shown up for any council meetings all year: Broward County Commissioner Jared Moskowitz, who’s busy running for Congress, and outgoing School Board member Ann Murray. Their absences in February, April and June were all unexcused.
Under the council’s bylaws established by the county commission, that should mean Moskowitz and Murray are out. “A member of the Broward County Housing Council shall be automatically removed as a member if he or she has three (3) consecutive unexcused absences…” say the council’s bylaws. Automatic removal will be deemed effective for Moskowitz “when written notice of the reason for the removal has been sent to the member by the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Professional Standards.” For Murray, it will be effective when a written notice is sent by the “Council Coordinator,” the bylaws say.
The same rule also applies to one private citizen on the housing council’s board who was likewise absent from all three of this year’s scheduled meetings: Fort Lauderdale real estate broker Christopher Krzemien.
HOUSING CRISIS ‘EPICENTER’
The embarrassing no-shows are ill-timed.
Four days after the housing council meeting was called off, President Biden’s housing Secretary Marcia Fudge landed in South Florida and declared Miami to be “the epicenter of the housing crisis in this country,” according to the Miami Herald.
And Broward is clearly within the epicenter’s cone of certainty.
On June 14, Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center Associate Director Dr. Ned Murray presented Broward commissioners with the preliminary findings of the center’s assessment of the county’s affordable housing needs. A key finding: a stunning 92 percent of Broward residents – many of whom are people of color – can’t afford the current median sale price of $545,000 of a single-family home.
And as United Way CEO Kathleen Cannon noted in an April op-ed in the Sun-Sentinel, “Broward is ranked last in the state’s 67 counties in affordable available housing to this population, with less than 25 units for every 100 families. These are employed people like teachers, office workers, service industry land retail employees – the backbone of our economy.” Housing is affordable if the occupant pays no more than 30 percent of gross monthly income for it, according to U.S. government.
In response, the United Way has launched its “United in Housing for Broward Program Related Investment Fund. Its purpose: to build a “capital fund to support affordable housing projects” that benefit workers who are renting because they can’t afford to buy a home.
THE 12-MINUTE MEETING
What has the Broward Housing Council done lately, besides failing to meet last month? Not much, a review of its recent agendas and official minutes shows.
The group, which was created to advise the county commission about policy on affordable and workplace housing and homelessness, is supposed to meet six times a year. The rules don’t say for how long.
In April, the council met by video conference for exactly 12 minutes. A draft summary of the meeting’s minutes shows that after roll call and approving the minutes of the previous meeting, members heard a couple of brief reports, including from the director of the county’s urban planning division about how advisory boards would resume in person meetings effective May 11 and that ethics training would be provided during the June 24 meeting (that was canceled).
No initiatives or ideas were proposed. But the council did fulfill its lone specified annual duty: submit an annual report to the county commission and others.
Minutes of two prior meetings show they were similarly short, sweet and devoid of evidence of fresh thinking about ways to help residents in dire need of affordable housing.
The February 25 video conference meeting lasted 41 minutes. The meeting began with the introduction of two new council members. “Chair (Marcia) Barry-Smith welcomed new BHC members (Broward) Commissioner Jared Moskowitz, representing the board of County Commissioners, and Nathan Perlmutter, representing the Builders Association of South Florida,” the minutes say.
Moskowitz was a no-show.
VACANCIES ON THE BOARD
The council was informed that three days earlier the county commission had approved $47 million in gap financing for nine new construction and/or land acquisition projects representing 1,025 new affordable multifamily units. Chairwoman Marcia Barry-Smith noted there were four vacancies on the council’s roster.
Those vacancies remain today, despite council bylaws that say the council must be made up of “at least 17 and no more than 19 members, comprised of 16 voting members.” Currently, there are only 13 voting members. Vacancies are supposed to be filled “as soon as is practicable by the appropriate appointing authority.”
County commissioners appoint seven to nine members, including one of their own, from various categories. The Broward League of Cities appoints three. The rest are appointed by seven other organizations, including the School Board, Florida Association of Realtors, the Builders Association of South Florida. Broward’s administrator, or her designee, is also a non-voting member.
The December 2021 meeting of the Broward Housing Council, also via teleconference, was a spare 21 minutes. The council was briefed on the governor’s 2022 budget included $350 million for affordable housing and a summary of the federal Build Back Better Act.
The June meeting was canceled when only seven members declared the day before that they would not attend. Two of those members don’t have a vote, so only five of the 13 voting members were not marked as absent. A quorum requires a majority of the current voting members to be present.
Besides the ethics training, the June meeting was supposed to feature the election of a new chair and vice chair, several housing related reports, a discussion of an upcoming council workshop in the fall and a presentation by FIU’s Murray on the county’s affordable housing needs.
Presumably, those matters and others will be taken up at the next scheduled meeting – assuming it occurs – on August 12 at 10 a.m. in Room 430 at the Broward Government Center in Fort Lauderdale.