The Audrey M. Edmonson Transit Village Brings Affordable Housing and Community Assets to an Underinvested Neighborhood in Miami, Florida
Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood has experienced chronic disinvestment for much of the past 50 years. Among other factors, the construction of Interstate 95 concentrated poverty in the neighborhood, and the 1980 McDuffie race riots contributed to a prolonged period of disinvestment that persisted into the twenty-first century. This predominantly African-American inner-ring neighborhood struggles with an unemployment rate almost three times that of Miami-Dade County as a whole and a median income that is approximately half of the countywide median. Audrey M. Edmonson (AME) Transit Village, a mixed-use project that required the support of many public and private partners, is a significant economic and cultural investment for Liberty City and helps reverse decades of neighborhood decline. Along with the project’s 176 units of affordable housing, AME Transit Village features considerable community assets: a bus transit hub, a performing arts theater and related cultural spaces, and ground-floor commercial space. By locating needed affordable housing next to community assets, AME Transit Village has contributed to the neighborhood’s revitalization.
AME Transit Village
Located at a major intersection on 7th Avenue in Liberty City, AME Transit Village consists of two 9-story, mixed-use buildings that were developed in separate phases. The 176 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units are affordable for households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), with approximately 22 units reserved for households earning less than 33 percent of AMI. The project’s first 76 units opened in 2015 and the remaining 100 units opened in 2017. Atlantic Pacific Communities developed the project. Amenities for residents include a library, business center, gym, playground, pool, and garden.
Residents benefit from supportive services that are provided onsite. The property management staff organize quarterly workshops and counseling services through the local workforce development agency to improve residents’ employment prospects. Through a partnership with the Miami-Dade County Public Library System’s literacy support program, residents needing to develop their reading and writing skills receive weekly literacy training. Along with these services, AME Transit Village supplies a family support case manager who is available onsite for at least 20 hours per week to assess residents’ needs and support self-sufficiency. Youth aging out of foster care, for whom five units are reserved, receive supportive services that are coordinated by the county’s designated child welfare agency.
Community Assets Benefit Liberty City
Miami-Dade County’s 7th Avenue Community Redevelopment Plan, which was adopted in 2004, called for development along the underutilized corridor that adds affordable housing with transit access and opportunities for economic development. AME Transit Village, which took more than a decade to plan and build and required multiple private and public partners, including Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, helps achieve those goals through its multiuse program. The transit hub makes commuting convenient and comfortable for Liberty City residents, who rely on public transit. The hub, with enclosed spaces for ticketing and a waiting area, accommodates four bus routes that connect riders to Miami’s downtown and the Brownsville Metrorail station, as well as other destinations in Miami-Dade County and Broward County. In addition to the transit center, the development’s 1,700 square feet of commercial space, anchored by a Chase Bank branch, supports increased pedestrian traffic and economic development in the Liberty City Business District to mitigate the area’s high vacancy rates and limited employment opportunities.
AME Transit Village also includes space for another community asset: the creative arts. The development’s primary cultural space is the Sandrell Rivers Theater, managed by the Fantasy Theatre Factory. The primary performance space is the 200-seat Main Stage Black Box Theater, where the M Ensemble Company, the longest-running African-American theater company in Florida, is in residence. The Sandrell Rivers Theater’s other performance spaces are the Dance Rehearsal Studio and the Multipurpose Room. In addition to concerts and plays, the theater is used for youth educational programs, including classes, workshops, and a theater arts camp in which most participants come from the neighborhood through a scholarship from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and The Children’s Trust. The Sandrell Rivers Theater also features 2,400 square feet of gallery and studio space for community artists. A mural of prominent African-Americans from Liberty City is among the works on display in the gallery. The community can also reserve these spaces for public meetings, art exhibitions, and school field trips.
According to officials at Atlantic Pacific Communities, the financing structure for the approximately $68.7 million project had to be both novel and complex (table 1). The financing was complex to satisfy the different requirements of several lenders, underwriters, market study providers, and tax counsel. The project’s novelty is due to Atlantic Pacific Communities working with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure that the transit hub and theater qualified as community service facilities under IRS regulations for low-income housing tax credits. The regulations stipulate that tax credits can fund a community service facility if it primarily serves individuals who earn less than 60 percent of AMI. The developer was able to demonstrate that the transit hub and theater satisfied this condition as well as three other tests, including a requirement that the facility improve the quality of life of community residents. Atlantic Pacific Communities believes that this is one of the first times, if not the first, that a theater has qualified as a community service facility.
Table 1: Financing for AME Transit Village
|Phase One||Phase Two|
|4% low-income housing tax credit equity from Wells Fargo Bank||$15,300,000|
|Permanent first mortgage from Wells Fargo Bank||1,800,000|
|County general obligation bonds — housing||10,600,000|
|County general obligation bonds — transit||3,000,000|
|County general obligation bonds — cultural||5,000,000|
|County surtax loan||1,400,000|
|Miami HOME Investment Partnerships Program loan||1,500,000|
|Deferred developer fees||200,000|
|Permanent loan from Wells Fargo Bank||1,200,000|
|9% low-income housing tax credit equity from Wells Fargo Bank||28,200,000|
|Deferred developer fees||500,000|
Signs of Revitalization
The developer and project advocates hoped that AME Transit Village would catalyze revitalization in Liberty City. Affordable housing with supportive services prepares residents to access jobs that can increase disposable income spent in the neighborhood. The Sandrell Rivers Theater has helped revitalize the neighborhood by adding opportunities for Liberty City residents and visitors to experience arts education and events. From the theater’s opening in 2016 through the end of September 2019, the M Ensemble Company has produced 120 performances for 1,200 patrons, part of the 750 programs performed before 42,000 patrons that the Fantasy Theatre Factory has offered, according to Evelyn Sullivan, the theater’s manager. The ground-floor commercial space is a highly visible new investment on a commercial corridor in need of additional economic activity. The transit hub’s convenience and accessibility can increase bus ridership among residents, and the increase in transit use can attract additional federal funding. As an acknowledgement of the project’s substantial benefits for Liberty City, AME Transit Village earned a 2018 Multifamily Excellence award from the National Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies.