Miami Beach project promises to house working class in tiny units. Rents start at $2,000

A new law has paved the way for twice as many apartments for a Miami Beach development that targets the city’s working class with capped rents.

After being presented and approved two years ago, Mia will return to Miami Beach’s Planning Board in late April with double the number of floors and apartments than originally planned after the passage of the Live Local Act. The state law allows developers to build higher and add more apartments — disregarding local zoning regulations — if a building includes affordable or workforce housing.

The new plans include an eight-story building at 1960 Normandy Dr. with retail on the bottom and 120 apartments with capped rents at 80% of the county’s area median income. That means rents would range from $2,000 a month for a 375-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment to $2,200 a month for a 450-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.

The proposal scales taller than surrounding buildings. It would transform a strip of single-story retail buildings on a 25,771-square-foot lot — a former industrial storage site for cable operator Atlantic Broadband, now Breezeline.

“What we’re making is better than what previously was there,” said Alan Waserstein, principal of Miami Lakes-based development firm LeaseFlorida. “We’re helping the community. It is going to help all of Miami Beach with the residents that are working in Miami Beach. We are giving into a need rather than the developers that are building units and selling them for a lot of money.”

Live Local Act inspires density

None of the adjacent apartment buildings rise as high as the requested 75 feet, higher than the 40 feet set by the city’s zoning for this property. Although Mia’s new height may have been rejected in the past, both the height and density are acceptable under the Live Local Act. The legislation states developments with affordable and workforce housing can go as high as the tallest building within a one-mile radius.

The Florida Legislature responded to the state’s housing crisis amid a continuing wealth migration by passing the Live Local Act in 2023. The law is intended to motivate developers to build more affordable and workforce housing through tax incentives. Workforce housing rents range from 60% to 140% of the county’s area median income, while affordable housing rents run below the 60% threshold.

LeaseFlorida has constructed several residential developments across South Florida over the years. Mia is its second workforce housing project, after converting the rooms at Lombardy Inn Hotel at 6300 Collins Ave. into about 65 apartments with capped rents at 80% of the area median income.

Should LeaseFlorida receive approval in late April, the next step would come during the summer when the firm would go before the Miami Beach City Commission. LeaseFlorida would then aim to finalize its plans and submit for permitting, the documentation needed to start construction. The company anticipates starting construction in late 2025 and then opening by late 2027. Waserstein declined to comment on the expected construction budget.

Mia, Live Local Act ruffles feathers

The Live Local Act continues to cause concern among local city officials and residents who say they’ve lost control over new developments. In fact, some developers have gone as far as proposing projects where higher buildings and housing had never been thought of before, including at the Clevelander South Beach on Ocean Drive and the posh Bal Harbour Shops.

Architect Maria Luisa Castellanos has similar concerns for Mia. Castellanos is the president for Coral Gables-based United Architects Inc. and former board member of the Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing.

“It is out of context for the area. That doesn’t mean that particular project is bad. Maybe the city wants to redesign that area into taller buildings, but that’s something that needs to be decided by the city, not someone in Tallahassee that is dictating this area,” Castellanos said.

Besides bringing more traffic into the island connecting Miami-Dade County’s mainland and Miami Beach’s North Beach, the expected asking rents concern Castellanos.

“The Live Local Act is not going to serve anyone except the upper middle class,” she said. “The people stuck here — the waiters, the people cleaning our houses, janitors — who is building for them? They can’t afford these rents.”

Asking rents are expected to start at $2,000 a 375-square-foot apartment. Above: A rendering of the workforce housing development Mia. Design Architecture Consultants
Asking rents are expected to start at $2,000 a 375-square-foot apartment. Above: A rendering of the workforce housing development Mia. Design Architecture Consultants

Waserstein said he believes there’s demand for these $2,000 a month smaller living spaces.

“It’s common in New York City and San Francisco,” he said. “We have been spoiled here.”

Miami Homes for All’s Executive Director Annie Lord said projects like Mia and others aren’t meant to be the be-all-end-all solution for South Florida’s affordable and workforce housing developments. As state representatives have said, the taller buildings from the Live Local Act are meant to provide some relief.

“What this illustrates is that the Live Local Act is going to promote units at a certain price, but it won’t help affordability,” Lord said. “What will promote deeper affordability — which is where we have most of our need — is additional resources. We need more public funding to support housing for everyday Miamians.”