Since founding Habitat Group in 2005, Vanegas has sought to promote sustainable real estate development in South Florida’s investor hotspots, including West Brickell and, more recently, Little Havana. Before coming to Miami in 2000, he studied economics at Universidad del Rosario in Colombia. Through a strategy that focuses on density and functionality, Vanegas said he sees plenty of room for new construction in Little Havana that doesn’t detract from the neighborhood’s history, not to mention its affordability.
“There is an opportunity to create an affordable rental market in the city for the people who work in the city,” Vanegas said. “There are a lot of people who work downtown but can’t afford to live near downtown. We think it is possible to provide an option for them.”
Habitat’s previous work in East Little Havana includes the redevelopment of two hotels, the Jefferson Hotel and the Historic Miami River Hotel. Vanegas said he hopes to build on the success of those projects as it works to develop more commercial and residential spaces to support Miami’s growing urban economy.
“There is very little supply in downtown Miami for commercial real estate,” Vanegas said. “There are no hotels for sale and minimal multifamily supply. We are shifting our strategy to meet those needs over the next several years.”
Zoning restrictions are often cited among the primary obstacles for developers who want to focus on affordable housing in urban areas, and Miami is no exception. The pattern of development in Miami recently has emphasized downtown density, but this carries side effects. Traffic congestion is one of them, and Vanegas thinks this presents one of the easiest opportunities for zoning reform.
Right now, new construction in Miami must meet a quota for parking space. To get that requirement reduced or eliminated, Vanegas said, developers have to petition city officials.
“It should be the opposite,” he said. “Developers should almost get a bonus for reducing their parking requirements.” That way, the city could crack down on traffic that clogs arterial roads surrounding downtown. Several of Habitat’s projects, including the ongoing Smart Brickell complex, are designed to make the most of relatively small land parcels by building up and fitting neatly into the surroundings.
“We have an amazing portfolio of real estate assets, and we have managed to bring them to market with very good timing,” Vanegas said. “Our strategy is to stay ahead of the next cycle.”