MIAMI - As the tail end of one of the most active hurricane seasons in history nears, Miami-Dade County appears once again poised to emerge unscathed. The region dodged hurricanes and tropical storms that posed a potential threat to South Florida. But what will happen when that luck runs out?
Housing advocates have long feared that the city is one storm away from disaster; nearly a third of all housing structures in Miami-Dade County built before 1990 are at risk of wind damage, mold contamination and even complete devastation from a hurricane.
According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, nearly 1 million people could be left homeless in a worst-case scenario - the majority of them among the poorest of the county's residents.
"Hurricane Andrew cut across the state and stayed south," said Dr. Ned Murray, associate director of FIU's Metropolitan Center. "If Hurricane Irma had kept its projected track, which at one point had it going straight up the I-95 corridor, you're looking at at least 258,000 properties and nearly a million people living in substandard units that would have been highly vulnerable."
About 70.2% of the county's total 1,016,653 single-family homes, condos and townhouses were built prior to 1990, two years before Miami-Dade and Broward adopted a stricter "High Velocity Hurricane Zone" building code standard after Hurricane Andrew. Bringing all that housing stock up to code would cost billions of dollars.
A COMMON PROBLEM
It's a widespread issue. Miami-Dade's housing affordability crisis extends beyond the poor to middle-class households - and so does vulnerability to a hurricane catastrophe.
More than 30% of all county renters live in storm-vulnerable housing, according to estimates. That includes townhomes, apartments, duplexes, single-family homes and public and affordable housing.
Among those at risk is Sheila McMahon, 44, who moved to Miami in 2017 to take a job at Barry University as a social work professor. She has lived in three different apartments since then. The first, in Hollywood, was in an old building that was not hurricane-proofed; luckily, she avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.
Her second apartment, in Normandy Isles, seemed quaint and welcoming - until she moved in and realized that the $1,200-per-month unit's jalousie windows didn't fully close. She reached out to the owners, who lived in New Jersey, and they told her they couldn't afford to replace them.