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Miami Climate Change, Affordable Housing Plans Driven by Data

Work from of the University of Miami’s Office of Civic Engagement plots the city’s affordable housing against anticipated sea level change to provide decision-makers with a comprehensive look at housing needs.

MetroLab Network has partnered with Government Technology to bring its readers a segment called the MetroLab Innovation of the Month Series, which highlights impactful tech, data and innovation projects underway between cities and universities. If you’d like to learn more or contact the project leads, please contact MetroLab at for more information.

In this month’s installment of the Innovation of the Month series, we highlight a project focused on climate change and housing affordability in the greater Miami area. The team has built a tool that maps the intersection between housing shortages and looming sea level rises to help leaders build urban resilience. MetroLab’s Ben Levine spoke with Dr. Robin Bachin, Dr. Keren Bolter, Dr. Christopher Mader, Jennifer Posner, Ranata Reeder and James Murley about their project.      

Ben Levine: Can you describe the motivation for this project and who is on the team?

Robin Bachin: The Miami Affordability Project (MAP) was launched to provide planners, policymakers, affordable housing developers and community organizations with a comprehensive look at the distribution of affordable housing and housing needs in the greater Miami area. Miami is ground zero for the tandem threats of sea level rise and housing affordability, so data mapping the impacts of climate change on Miami’s affordable housing stock was a clear next step for expanding the tool. MAP is part of a suite of tools and reports we released as part of a two-year project entitled “Housing Resiliency and a Sustainable South Florida.” 

Jen Posner: The team is an amazing blend of professionals that brought a rich body of work and experience to the tools we produced. Our office, the University of Miami’s Office of Civic Engagement, is led by Dr. Robin Bachin, who headed the project team. I am an urban planner and joined the office as the project manager for the Housing Resiliency project. 

Keren Bolter: I lead climate change resilience initiatives in South Florida for Arcadis, the Dutch engineering firm. I was thrilled to work on this project because it aligns with my personal goal of increasing awareness on environmental impacts in a positive way that inspires a call to action. We see that with climate change, there is an information-action gap, and these tools can support data-driven and equity-driven decision-making to close the gap. 

Jen Posner: We were also joined by Landolf Rhode-Barbarigos, a civil engineer at the University of Miami (UM), and Ranata Reeder from the South Florida Community Development Coalition, which led our community engagement efforts. Our mapping work was headed by Chris Mader in UM’s Institute for Data Science and Computing. We were also supported by two amazing graduate assistants, Catalina Rodriguez and Matt Varkony, and two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, Bryan Vicente Ortiz and Taegan Dennis. 

Levine: Who are the intended users of MAP? In what ways do you hope they will benefit from this tool?

Bachin: Our intention with all of our mapping tools is to truly democratize data and develop community-driven approaches to policy solutions. MAP is a free, interactive online platform that has been used by planners, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, community groups and municipal leaders. 

MAP spatializes the distribution of affordable housing and housing need in Miami. By adding elevation and sea level rise data to this platform, we have created the first mapping tool focused on South Florida to explore, in tandem, the issues of affordable housing and climate change to more equitably and effectively promote urban resilience. 

James Murley: Miami-Dade County values its academic partners who can enhance planning efforts around sea-level rise and climate change. The University of Miami's Office of Civic and Community Engagement's expertise in affordable housing created a seamless transition to incorporate considerations about climate change into planning for our most vulnerable populations. The provision of neighborhood-level data in the MAP tool helps us at the county as we prepare holistically for changes to infrastructure, updated land use planning policy and other proactive strategies to effectively adapt to sea level rise. 


Levine: Can you talk about the various layers of data that MAP utilizes? Are there attributes that you find particularly valuable? 

Posner: To help guide our work, we assembled an incredible stakeholder team composed of some of the leading thinkers on climate, resilience and community equity. Their guidance was critical to the selection of data from authoritative sources that would provide meaningful information to shape mitigation strategies. When designing the sea level rise resiliency layers to include in MAP, we were very focused on identifying data sets that would have the most utility and best interact with our existing housing and community data layers without creating a confusing visual jumble. Ground elevation is on everyone’s mind when it comes to sea level rise, so we knew that was going to be particularly useful.

Mader: The team wanted to show how storm surge from an extreme weather event could produce particularly intense water inundation to certain areas. We are fortunate at UM to draw upon the expertise of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, who worked with us to produce a map that demonstrated vulnerability in a very accessible way. 

Everyone in South Florida is familiar with the devasting impacts of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. We created a mapping layer that showed how the track of Hurricane Andrew would look when projected forward to today and beyond by building in projected sea level rise. We were pleased with this creative solution to showing, with clarity, a potentially daunting future. 

Levine: What impacts has MAP already produced? Are there other impacts you hope to see in the future?

Bachin: Since it was created in 2015, MAP has been used by numerous municipalities and advocacy organizations to support data-driven research. Miami-Dade County is unique in that is composed of 34 distinct municipalities with their own mayors, commissions, even their own sanitation departments. This fragmented governance structure can cause confusion for everyone, from constituents to municipal leaders.

Posner: MAP includes a layer that can select the 34 municipal boundaries, elected commission districts and community redevelopment agencies. This capability lends itself to users looking to zero in on a particular geography to target specific issues or concerns. The addition of the resilience data can enable elected commissioners, for example, to visualize the potential storm and flooding impacts on their districts and allocate resources accordingly. 

The initial inspiration for expanding the provisions of the MAP tool emerged from discussions with our local community partners, municipal agencies and other community stakeholders looking to better understand the larger universe of threats to affordable housing stability beyond lapsed financing programs and gentrification pressures. While numerous sources about climate change exist, we saw a clear need for a tool that examined in detail the climate vulnerability of affordable housing. A companion project to the MAP tool is the new Resilience Policy Toolkit, a collection of best practices and policy recommendations that could be implemented by governments to improve climate equity. One element of this work was a cost-benefit analysis that has already sparked discussion with our county resiliency office. Our hope is that these resources can continue to be expanded to encourage responsible affordable housing construction and adaptation.   


Levine: Can you see this project being applied in other communities? What are the next steps for MAP?

Posner: Before we completed the two-year grant period for this project, we knew that looking at the impacts of sea level rise was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uncovering the impacts of climate change on Miami’s affordable housing. Our funder, JP Morgan Chase, has generously given us a grant to continue to explore these impacts with a particular emphasis on extreme heat. We are calling this new initiative the Climate and Equity Mapping Platform (CAMP). 

Bolter: Extreme heat is among the most dangerous natural hazards, but it generally receives less attention than other extreme climate events because the impacts are not immediately obvious. This important issue has been gaining interest and research support, with particular attention to public health conditions that are experienced much more profoundly by vulnerable populations. At Arcadis, we have undertaken analyses in this area as part of grant work funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and there is much more to uncover. 

Bachin: Our work through CAMP will explore the deep inequities related to heat by looking at it through the lenses of public health, productivity implications, building- and neighborhood-level analyses, and impacts to overall livability. The University of Richmond’s Mapping Inequality project demonstrates the alignment of historic redlining maps with areas that consistently see higher temperatures today. We will explore these systemic inequalities with added MAP data that shows information like tree canopy, large areas of pavement, and urban heat islands to better equip planners and governments to take these impacts into consideration and address the environmental legacy of historic patterns of segregation. 

And as for the ability to translate this work to other communities, the answer is a resounding yes. A focus of our work with CAMP will be to develop a playbook of sorts that can assist other municipalities looking to create publicly accessible resources that integrate affordability and resiliency data. The problems are very real, but with more and more people working collaboratively and proactively, we feel optimistic that we can find creative and meaningful solutions to the challenges before us.


Ben Levine serves as executive director of MetroLab Network.