A real estate tug-of-war is underway in several communities in Miami. Residents and business owners who built Little Haiti and Liberty City said they are being pushed out by new development. Activists and an unlikely group of investors are working to ensure these people are part of the revitalization while preserving the cultural fabric of the communities.
The Miami Millennial Investment Group said it’s tackling gentrification by purchasing homes in neighborhoods such as Overtown, Liberty City and Opa-Locka.
“Instead of complaining about it because that’s not going to change much, we might as well get in the game,” said Ernisha Randolph, one of the investors under MMI. The group has purchased 13 homes since 2016. MMI buys neglected homes, renovates them and resells to residents in the neighborhood at affordable prices.
“Communities that we grew up in and we loved [and] we considered to have a cultural connection to, we realized that they were being out-priced,” Randolph explained.
In an effort to confront gentrification, MMI educates people in the community about home ownership. The investors hold community workshops to guide renters on how to secure funding to purchase property.
“Gentrification really affects people who are renting,” MMI investor Kevin Smith explained. MMI said it wants to increase black home ownership throughout South Florida. The group is currently guiding Liberty City activist Valencia Gunder on her path to home ownership. Gunder’s goal is to purchase the home she is currently renting from MMI.
“It’s quaint and it’s fitting just for me,” Gunder rejoiced. “I like the fact it’s newly renovated, beautiful and it’s in Liberty City.” The community activist is outspoken about under-resourced Black neighborhoods getting gentrified. She encourages Black millennials to follow her path and invest in these communities before it’s too late.
“We have to remember that if we don’t fix it someone else will come in to fix it and we’re not going to like how they fix it,” Valencia said. “I think that it’s very important for us to learn from other communities. We missed out on Wynwood. Wynwood was a Black and Brown community. And, now look, it’s a multi-million dollar neighborhood.”
The effects of gentrification from Wynwood are steadily spreading into neighboring Little Haiti.
“Little Haiti is experiencing gentrification on steroids,” exclaimed Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of FANM. Bastien has led protests at Miami City Hall demanding new developers to reconsider their plans to build massive complexes in the heart of Little Haiti.
“Development and change are good. Over-development will destroy the cultural fabric of Little Haiti and it will push the very people who built this wonderfully culturally rich neighborhood,” Bastien argued. The area has seen some residents and business owners already pushed out as new developers make their way in.
Schiller Sanon-Jules is one of the pushed out business owners. He owns the Little Haiti Gift and Thrift Shop.
“Five years we had our lease. And, when it expired the lady told us straight out that she wasn’t going renew the lease unless we were paying $1,800 more,” Sanon-Jules explained. The hiked rent forced the shop owner out of his space – which is now occupied by the Villain Theatre.
Bastien said developers such as Eastside Ridge are moving forward with their plans without including their neighbors in Little Haiti.
“Before you make this big proposal, this gigantic plan, get them to the table from the beginning,” Bastien said.
However, Eastside Ridge told NBC 6 its plans will be inclusive. The developer wants to build a mixed-use complex that will include rental property, retail space, two hotels and restaurants. Representative for Eastside Ridge, Ric Katz, said the new project will employ a lot of people from the neighborhood.
“We respect the culture. We’ve tried to do everything we could to incorporate it there,” explained Katz.
According to local scientists with The CLEO Institute, developers are targeting the area in and around Little Haiti because of climate change. The CLEO Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to climate change education.
"We have seen that for some developers that are noticing where property on the coastline are vulnerable to sea level rise then they’re moving inland and purchasing plots of lands and homes that community residents probably cannot afford to purchase themselves," explained Natalia Arias, Director of Programs at The CLEO Institute.
Arias adds that Overtown, Little Haiti and Liberty City sit on a ridge that is the highest point above sea level in Miami.
The CLEO Institute holds workshops in these neighborhoods, educating residents on climate change and hurricane preparedness.
People realize change is inevitable in these communities and that’s why people like Gunder and the MMI investors want to make sure they are a part of the revitalization.
“I do feel as if in ten years everybody who left wished they would’ve stayed here,” said Gunder.
“It’s so important to me that we invest in our community so that we have a community to go back to later on,” Randolph said.
Another grassroots organization combating gentrification in Liberty City is SMASH, which stands for Struggle For Miami's Affordable and Sustainable Housing. This group is spearheading a project that is controlled by the people in the community.
SMASH recently secured a plot of land where it plans to build affordable housing on a Community Land Trust. The soon-to-be two-story duplex is located on Northwest 63rd Street and 22nd Avenue. The community-driven project is the first of its kind in Miami-Dade County.
"The community owns and controls the property itself and not an individual, or the government or a corporation. And, that's the difference between gentrifying a neighborhood and equitably developing a neighborhood,” said Adrian Madriz, Executive Director of SMASH.
Madriz believes the negative effects of gentrification can be stopped if distressed land -- is controlled by the community and if residents have a say in new development.
"This is a campaign about people who have seen dramatic trauma because of where they live. And, if we don't come together as a community to do something about it, no one is going fight for these communities,” warned Madriz.
The property will also include expedited housing for slum affected families, long-term transitional housing for LGBTQ Homeless Youth, hubs for disaster preparedness and response, and more, according to SMASH.
The group will hold design town halls to allow people from the neighborhood to take part in the planning phase of the new project.