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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

They're fighting for their rights in Village West

I spent some time with the neighbors who are picketing for better housing in Village West. If you have time, I recommend you stop by and sit a spell and get to know them. Ironically, they were not only evicted from their apartments, they were also evicted from their picketing location on Grand Avenue. The property manager for the slumlord they are fighting, made them vacate that property.  When I stopped by on Saturday, they were on Grand Avenue, near Hibiscus Street. They are now camped out, literally, with tents and all, at the corner of Grand Avenue and Douglas Road. I spent time mostly with Renescha Coats and Kathy Parks, shown here, the two behind the Housing for All group. 

I asked Renescha what they were trying to gain by their protest. She told me, "We want the city to enforce their laws. Stop allowing us to live in squalor while we pay rent. Make them keep up the properties. Don't just evict people who have been paying you rent for years." Kathy has been working to help the West Grove neighbors for quite some time. You'll recognize them both from City Commission and other meetings.

Willie Scott on the corner of Grand and Douglas.
On Saturday morning, when the picketing started, the Grove2030 group was meeting at the other end of town and while it seems like an odd juxtaposition, both issues are intertwined. The Grove2030 group will protect all neighbors in all of Coconut Grove. When Coconut Grove becomes historic, all of the Grove will be protected and there is no place more historic than Village West, where the Grove began in the 1800s.

A few years back, the solution to development in Village West was to knock down the buildings and relocate the residents to Florida City, if I remember correctly. Well, those buildings that were knocked down are empty lots now and I'm not quite sure what happened to the residents, but if someone lives in Coconut Grove, they don't wish to be relocated to Florida City. 

Hannah Curry and Renescha Coats
The residents in Village West are being evicted because slumlords have allowed their properties to be condemned so that they may be torn down and the land sold to the highest bidder. It's not about residents not paying their rent. They are upstanding citizens who are being turned out because of greed. This reminds me so much of the Coconut Grove Playhouse where many feel that it is being neglected for the same reason. Once it's condemned, something new and shiny can be built in its place.

Village West is historic. Families have lived there for generations. These residents are desperate. 

Ken Russell spends the night.
According to Policy Director, Leah Weston of District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell's office, "We looked at the court docket for all of the various LLCs controlled by the small group of owners who have multi-family buildings along Grand Avenue. We saw about 15 individual eviction cases filed since October 24. As far as we know, additional tenants have received 3-day termination notices, but have not (yet) had eviction actions filed against them. Hope that clarifies the situation as it stands."

At this point, over 100 eviction notices have gone out.

What about fines for the slumlords and funding for temporary housing and moving for those being evicted? That's Commissioner Ken Russell above, who spent the night in a tent with the protesters on Sunday night. If the city refuses to abide by its own laws, then I think the residents need to be accommodated in some way. 

County Commissioner Xavier Suarez asks, "Will the city be filing any more actions for injunctive relief? I should add that my role and that of my staff has been to find temporary residences for the tenants evicted,"

He says his office has placed all but a handful of tenants from one building.

"In the long run, our effort is to build affordable housing for at least a few hundred residents in the West Grove. By affordable housing I mean what is actually termed 'very low income' housing, of the kind we have envisioned using government-owned land, non-profit developers, waiver of on-site parking, and insurance subsidies. (Note that the model is not new in the city; we did just that in Melrose and Rio Plaza, each of which sold for around $400 PITI.) If we can add tax abatements, I believe small units can be built and sold/rented for $500-600/month using conventional financing," said Commissioner Suarez.

Tent city.

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Anonymous John Dolson said...

Thanks for a great summary. The processing of letting homes deteriorate (and in this case with people in them) and then having the property condemned) is the common work-around developers use to split lots and build structures that don't conform to code (the 'by right') workaround. If they displace people, perhaps they should not get ANY building permit unless subsidizing or helping provide new housing for those displaced. This is a wretched system and it allows all sorts of code violations and loss of historic identity in the name of making money, in this case with real hardship on people living in West Grove. Our codes need enforcing and protections need to be in place for those that fall victim to these practices.

November 15, 2016 8:23 AM  

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