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  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

Designing the Mansion Junior instead of the McMansion

Key Biscayne Mackle Houses

When I was a child unlike most Cubans, my family lived in the north – Missouri, New Hampshire, Alabama, and Georgia. We would come to Miami all the time on vacation, sometimes twice a year. I used to visit all my Cuban exile relatives. Everybody lived in a modest house – 2 to 3 bedrooms, 1 to 2 bathrooms. Many had window air-conditioners in the bedrooms. The rest of the house did not have any air-conditioning at all.

What these houses had in common was that they were “affordable”. Nobody called them affordable, but they were built to be affordable, and in large part, the vast majority of the middle class could afford them.

In Key Biscayne the original Mackle houses from the 1950’s had 1200 square feet with 3 bedrooms and one bathroom. They were simple boxes built for the masses. In the 1960’s the Mackle houses were often expanded with an additional bedroom, bathroom, or carport. See for more on Key Biscayne history at

Now we build “affordable” houses which are hardly affordable to anyone. According HUD, the estimated income for a family of 4 in Miami-Dade County in 2016 was $48,100. The standard for affordability in buying a house is 2.5 times annual income. So for Miami-Dade County the average house should cost $120,250.

The Miami-Dade County Housing Data Clearinghouse 2005 4th Quarter Bulletin stated:

In 1970, the median value of a home in Miami-Dade County was about double the median yearly household income, which at the time was $7,151. In just 30 years, by 2000, a home was valued at $124,000, nearly 3.5 times the median yearly household income. And just four years later, in 2004, a home’s value, $193,906 was more than 5 times the household yearly income of $37,025.

The latest widening of the “Housing Affordability Gap” between 2000 and 2004 was due to an almost static income level coupled with a large spike in housing value. The median value of a house increased by over 56 percent, while there was barely a 3 percent increase in income between 2000 and 2004. Though the highest percentage housing value increase was between 1970 and 1975 (160 percent), the increase between 2000 and 2004 was the largest without a corresponding raise in the median income level.

In 2004, 80 percent of the median household income in Miami-Dade County was $29,620 and 319,931 households earned at or below this level. This was 40 percent of total households.

According to the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse, the median price of a single family home in 2016 was $289,000. There’s something very wrong with this picture!

Anyway we look at it, as a community, we could not afford the $289,000 houses. I think we need to do some radical things to correct this picture. We need to build smaller houses with fewer amenities. We need to go back and build smaller houses but better designed houses. Why not start with 1,300 square feet with three bedrooms and 1 and 1 ½ baths, but with a design which has the possibility of adding another bedroom, bath, and possibly a family room? Let’s make it look great, but let’s build it to be really affordable.

We need to build “green” houses which have cross-ventilation and fans. If we are going to air-condition the house, then it needs to be really efficient. 97% of heat gain is through the roof and not the walls, so for cost efficiency the majority of the insulation needs to be placed in the attic. There are many other green ideas, but to me the most important are the ones which save energy costs for the future resident. Let’s plant a few trees and maybe design a pergola for living outdoors.

If we can’t do anything immediately to raise salaries, then let’s lower fixed costs.

I think it’s time to live smart. As the population ages, we don’t need so much space. The children grow up and leave home. What are we going to do with all that square footage? Let’s think things through. Do we really have to have the McMansion or can we live with a MansionJunior? Let’s re-focus our energies and build what we can afford and what we need. We can still have the American dream, we just need to have a clear picture of what we want to afford. Happiness comes from wanting what we can have.

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