Nonprofits Use Tax Credits, HOME Program to Rebuild after Natural Disasters

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When attorney Leon Wolfe returned to South Florida from vacation after Hurricane Andrew hit in August of 1992, the area "looked like an atomic bomb had blownup," he said. "The devastation was more massive than you could believe."

Eighteen months latter, Wolfe, a partner in the Miami law firm Berman, wolfe & Rennert, is working with The Advisory Committee on Liberty City Youth (TACOLCY) and other nonprofit housing groups to build new apartments for those left homeless by the hurricane.

TACOLCY has teamed up with The Richman Group of Florida to rehabilitate The Landings, one of the many apartment complexes damaged by the hurricane. The 20-year-old structure lost its roof and most of its interior walls in the storm, leaving nothing but a shell from which to rebuild, Wolfe said.

Located in Homestead, one of the communities hit hardest by the hurricane, the 10-unit project will utilize the low-in-come housing tax credit to raise $2.3 million (out of the total cost of $6.2 million) from private investors. All of the units will be set aside for households earning no more than 60 percent of area median income. Rents will start at $470 for a one-bedroom unit, including utilities.

"The project would not be feasible at those rents without the tax credit because of the high cost of construction," Wolfe said.

Project financing also includes low-interest loans using HOME Investment Partnership funds and a special setaside of State Apartment Incentive Loan program funds generated in Florida by increased sales tax revenue from sales of building materials and furnishings after the hurricane.

The new housing will be a godsend for the low- and moderate- income households who lived in the 13,000 affordable housing units in South Dade County damaged or destroyed in the hurricane, said Miller. Affluent homeowners collected insurance money to rebuild and could afford comfortable temporary housing. But families of more modest means have lived in tent cities, trailers or damaged homes. Many have squeezed in with relatives, said Richard Miller, director of the housing division of the Dade County Office of Community Development.

"The efforts by the local development community in South Dade County, working with the state, county and city, were absolutely necessary to alleviate the housing crisis that existed before, and was made worse by, the hurricane," said Wolfe.

The county-wide need for affordable housing is 113,000 units, said Miller.

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