Fort Lauderdale housing complex offers stable homes for homeless, cheap rents for local workers

A Fort Lauderdale developer and local nonprofit just finished a unique $25 million real estate project to provide discounted apartments for essential area workers struggling with the region’s high cost of housing and homeless people who need stable homes.

Called Seven on Seventh, this recently opened affordable housing community on Seventh Street in the city sits adjacent to Broward Partnership’s Central Homeless Assistance Center.

The project is the result of a seven-year collaboration between Fort Lauderdale developer Green Mills Group and Broward Partnership, a nonprofit working to alleviate homelessness. Half of the 72 apartments are designated for local workers such as teachers and other residents who meet lower-income requirements.

The other 36 apartments are reserved for people transitioning from living on the streets, or in shelters, to a place they can call home, as well as other at-risk individuals and families. The apartments, which are all leased, range from studios to those with two bedrooms.

The Green Mills group secured the $25 million to build the apartment complex from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

“My partner Oscar Sol and I have been developing affordable housing our entire careers,” Green Mills Group co-founder and principal Mitchell Rosenstein said. “We worked together and all we’ve done is affordable and workforce housing development throughout the Southeast, but really concentrated in Florida about a decade ago.”

Having grown up in Broward County, Rosenstein remembers driving past the former parking lot that the apartment community now occupies. He said it was important for him to make sure residents have the key amenities that market-priced apartment buildings have: a fitness room, a club room and interactive library.

This is the fitness center inside the new affordable housing community, Seven on Seventh, in Fort Lauderdale.

This is the fitness center inside the new affordable housing community, Seven on Seventh, in Fort Lauderdale.

Monthly rent for tenants starts at $1,200 and the county will provide financial assistance with rental payments to those who need it. The property also accepts federal Section 8 housing vouchers from tenants to cover part or all of the monthly rent.

Like the rest of South Florida, Broward has been mired in a housing affordability crunch. According to the 2022 Broward County Affordable Housing Needs Assessment, in the last five years 25,000 homes in the county that had been considered affordable now carry higher prices, and 32% of the county’s renters spend more than half their annual household incomes on rent. The average rent for an efficiency apartment in Broward is $2,100 a month, while the average monthly cost for a three-bedroom apartment is $3,300.

Frances M. Esposito, Broward Partnership’s chief executive, said one of the primary goals of her agency’s partnership in developing Seven on Seventh was to help individuals switch from homelessness to becoming self-sufficient. Two case managers work at the apartment community to assist residents with finding health care, dental and behavioral health services.

“We’re talking about not just workforce development and training opportunities, but also educational opportunities such as financial literacy,” she said.

Esposito has spent more than 25 years working as an advocate for homeless people and thinks a community geared for them is a key step in a new direction. Her nonprofit has helped 33,000 individuals without stable shelter and is confident the Seven on Seventh community will boost that total.

This is the common space for tenants living in the new Seven on Seventh apartment building in Fort Lauderdale to gather for social activities.

This is the common space for tenants living in the new Seven on Seventh apartment building in Fort Lauderdale to gather for social activities.

For tenant Pamela Cammon, her apartment represents a fresh start and a chance to finally rest. The former Miami Gardens resident moved to Fort Lauderdale three months ago. Earlier, she spent years living with family in different parts of Georgia.

“The building is quiet,” the 65-year-old said. “It’s a big deal for me, because I’ve been struggling. … I’m very excited about this building and can’t put it into words. It’s very difficult renting on the side of someone’s house and sleeping in your car. I never thought I would go through that.”

Cammon drove school buses for 40 years, before her job at a Fort Lauderdale adult day care center. As she settles into her new one-bedroom apartment, she’s optimistic she and her neighbors can thrive in the Seven on Seventh community.

“If you see me, you would never know I have been in a struggle,” she said. “I’ve been through a whole lot, but I don’t look like it.”

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