Residents Scramble to Find New Homes as Florida City Looks to Sell RV Park

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Dozens of residents of a low-income trailer park in South Florida are being forced to leave the place they have lived for years after city officials made a deal to sell the land to developers.

Residents of the 15-acre lot owned by Florida City have until Wednesday to leave the trailer park.

“It puts us in a panic,” said Lizbeth Horaitis, who’s lived on the campgrounds with her family for about 13 years. 

“Final notice” letters were posted on residents' trailers and mobile homes late last week.

City officials are working to close a $6.8 million sale with developers. As part of the deal, all trailers, campers, recreational vehicles and their occupants have to be gone, said Mayor Otis Wallace.

“The deal can’t close until the campsite is empty,” said Wallace, who’s been mayor of Florida City since 1984.

The letter threatens that failure to comply by Wednesday, March 17, 2021, “means that you will be trespassing on private property and subject to removal under the law.” The letter is signed by City Attorney Regine Monestime. 

“We have somewhere to go but not in five days. Not that quickly. What we're asking for is time that we were promised,” Horaitis said.

Other residents told us they simply can’t afford to move anywhere else. They knew the city was looking to sell, in fact, many attended a meeting at City Hall about it. However, it seems the residents were unsure if or when the sale was moving forward. 

“We've known for a while that they’ve planned on selling but they didn't give us the time that we were promised,” Horaitis said.

However, Wallace told NBC 6 that these residents have actually had several months to make other arrangements. He held a meeting in August of 2020 and gave the residents their first notice that the city was looking to sell the property. 

The mayor said it's now been seven months since that meeting, much longer than the three months he said he initially gave. The city sent out those letters to get the residents’ attention that the city was serious about moving forward with the sale, Wallace said. 

Because residents aren’t being told to leave because of their inability to pay rent, they aren’t likely to be helped by the federal moratorium on evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which the Biden administration has extended until the end of the month.

Many of the 70 or so residents are elderly and have physical and mental health problems that make it difficult to work. Several residents said they were blindsided by the notice from the city that they needed to move.

Located in Miami-Dade County, Florida City is one of Florida's poorest municipalities. The trailer park has been homes to residents since the 1980s.

“We just can’t come up with the money to go somewhere else on such short notice,” said Yamil Soltura, 17, a high school student who lives at the park with his father. “If they gave us 90 days, at least we’d be able to work with that, and we could figure out what we’re going to do, work some overtime or something, I don’t know.”

Wallace said Florida City will be reasonable with the families who had been paying rent and just need more time to move and make arrangements. However, the city does reserve the right to start the eviction process on Wednesday for the families who he says are taking advantage of living on the campgrounds and not paying. 

“I’m very sympathetic to the campers, but as the mayor of Florida City, I’m sympathetic to the taxpayers, too,” Wallace said.

NBC 6 and AP
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