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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Housing summit left more questions than answers

I attended the Housing Summit on Saturday, at the Christ Episcopal Church on Hibiscus Street in Village West. While it was a long meeting, about three hours, I am not sure that anything got resolved, but just the fact that it was a full room was a great start. The Coconut Grove Village Council along with the office of Commissioner Xavier Suarez hosted the event. Word was that the City of Miami did not have anyone there representing the city; I don't think anyone was present from Planning & Zoning or any other city agency. Commissioner Suarez was not there himself. To his credit, City Commissioner Francis Suarez was present, he was there to participate and not represent the city.

Village Council chair Kate Callahan introduced speakers and Javier Gonzalez, vice-chair, had real estate answers to questions. Ed O'dell, former tv newsman and long-time Grovite, served as emcee.

The main issue was the displacement of Village West residents; 52 so far. What I loved at the meeting was that the Village West residents don't call their neighborhood Village West, they call it Coconut Grove, after all, that was Coconut Grove from the beginning. And maybe that's what we all need to be doing and I think I may just start that now, except I need to refer to Village West down below in this story, to differentiate it from South Grove to make a point.

A lot of the displaced people were sent to Homestead or Liberty City or other places, sent away from their Coconut Grove homes, churches, schools, family and friends. All this in the name of progress.

Perhaps if the slumlords were reigned in by the City, things would not be allowed to deteriorate. It's ironic to note that some of these boarded up buildings are housing squatters now, just like the Playhouse did for years. Oh by the way, there is a pipe spewing water all over the roof of the Playhouse right now. Does anyone know? Does anyone care? This is how our City feels about history.

Ms. Frederika filling out the question form.
When a landlord has his building fall into disrepair, why not report it, anonymously if you must. The sad part is that, all of those renters did not have leases, and they were asked to vacate in 15 days, which is legal if there is no binding contract. Ed O'dell said, "When you come to the Grove, you see what history is all about." Really? Where?

Ideas were thrown around at the meeting, but no solutions were found. I and others found it odd that there were County workers from organizations like the South Florida CLT (Community Land Trust) discussing how buying a house would ease their problems. I thought at this point that it could be a waste of time, but I was informed that there are programs that ask for small down payments and low mortgage payments. One issue brought up was having neighbors buy up the buildings, rather than developers, sort of like a co-op. I think there should be agencies somewhere in the area, that would help people navigate this in an easy manner.

The bottom line is that government is not serving the interests of the people, but how can you force landlords not to sell and perhaps not have leases on their properties? I do think it's an easy fix to have them upkeep the properties, but the city neglects doing anything about that and they would prefer new buildings and tax bases rather than help people with what is there now.

Javier Gonzalez mentioned that there are 200 empty lots sitting in Village West as opposed to only one in South Grove. What does this mean? Are the lots abandoned? Are they awaiting buyers? Why is this the case? I know that some years back, apartment buildings were knocked down in the name of progress and the lots still sit empty all these years later. Is that progress or just the elimination of neighbors who lived there?

One business owner, Barbara Mills, discussed how it is effecting business in the area. Little by little as people are forced out, businesses will not have customers in the neighborhood. Next it effects churches and then schools and as residents vacate, the memberships and numbers go down.

There is a fund that will help displaced people find a home for a short period of time, the number to get information on that is 305-446-5150.

In the words of EWF Stirrup, an early Grove pioneer, "Every family here should have a home." And I don't think that refers to quick buck developers, but if they are the ones renovating, gentrifying and making old new again, what is the solution? What they are doing does bring property values up.

Many of the properties up and down Grand Avenue that are old and decaying are not historic, it's the people who are part of our history, some have been here for generations and they want to stay. And that's a major problem, is it too late to save the buildings? What about the people? 

It's very admirable that the Village Council has opened the dialogue. People need answers. And help. Now.

For linking to this one story, just click on the time it was posted & just this story will open for sharing - only through social media. Not copying and pasting.


Anonymous al crespo said...

How does a Miami City Commissioner like Francis Suarez show up at a public meeting involving a critical issue affecting the city and NOT claim to be representing the city? Oh yeah, when he's running for Mayor and trolling for votes.

I have to assume that since Tom claims that NO ONE was there representing the city, that means that neither Commissioner "Selfie Boy" Russell or any of his staff were there either, correct?

But then again, Miami's newest champion of liberal values and activism was probably either polishing his remarks, or on his way downtown to speak to all the good women of Miami angry at the election of Donald Trump, because after a year in office in which he demonstrated a lack of interest in learning such basic parts of his job such as the rules parliamentary procedure, he's now become a font of wisdom on how to take activism from the local level to the national level.

You cannot make this up. One Commissioner shows up because he's trolling for votes, and the Commissioner in whose district this problem exists was too busy telling women - many, if not most who don't live in Miami - how to wage political battle, while ignoring the political battle within his own district over the treatment of poor Black women.

Oh yeah, before I forget, Hey Ed O'Dell, neither you or anyone on your staff ever got back to me about just what after care services or treatment - if any - Jackson Health Center is providing the addicts who are overdosing on heroin when they are brought to your emergency room.

I know this is off-topic, but since you live in the Grove and found enough time in your busy schedule to emcee this meeting, I figure that since I've made repeated calls to your office that maybe if I write you here you would get someone to provide me with an answer. Heroin overdoses continue to be a big problem in some parts of Miami, and I've yet to be able to discover, or been provided with any evidence that something is being done to help some of these people who haven't the resources to go check themselves into some high-priced drug rehab center.

As for all you other other Groveites, especially the ones who claim to love Ken Russell, his failure to show up at this event should make some of you quit drinking the Kool-Aid and start asking yourself why Russell figured it was more important to be downtown instead of in the Grove on Saturday morning.

Al Crespo

January 22, 2017 9:01 AM  
Anonymous John Dolson said...

Tom: It was great to see you at the meeting and thanks for a nice write-up. I have to give huge credit to the Village Council and Commissioner Suarez for setting this up. The upcoming Village Council meeting on Feb. 17, 2017 is supposed to focus the entire 2 hours on the solution boards. It will be interesting to see what, if anything drops out of that. But we need more meetings like this to pull together across the Grove. Fixing the code and housing issues in the West Grove will fix a lot of the rest of the city and this area is truly in crisis. Thanks again for a good wrap up.

January 22, 2017 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Russell should have made time to attend both the Miami Woman Rally and the West Grove meeting. But if he could only attend one, then his responsibility and duty was to his constituents. The folks in the West Grove helped elect him because they need his help. The 20,000 woman at the rally could have done just fine without him. He should also consider investing less time on FaceBook and more one on one with Constituent FaceTime.

January 22, 2017 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If landlords are breaking the law they should be punished per the law. Other than that, what is it the governments business keeping some people in a neighborhood and therefore keeping others out. People always blame the owner of a business or a landlord, but never think about how rising costs of property taxes and insurance make some properties not viable for low income housing or cause business owners to raise prices or lay off workers. The Govt has no business telling any owner of land what they can do with it or who they have to keep there or what the rents should be. The Govt doesn't tell the publisher of this news site that it has to keep advertisements at a low cost and only sell ad space to people who have been here before and only to business that don't have a lot of money. This is a free market society and the market decides prices rents and ad space cost. It's unfortunate but if you have a lease you only have a right to reside on the property per the lease terms. Nothing more.

January 22, 2017 5:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you been too busy to attend Church or Temple? Guess you missed that "We Are Our Brothers Keeper" sermon!

January 22, 2017 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats strike one for Russell... he better change his stance about the community and the people that voted his ass in...on the other hand what did you expect from the city? Go Trump!

January 22, 2017 9:41 PM  
Anonymous al crespo said...

I've been informed that 1 or 2 members of Commissioner Russell's staff attended this Housing Summit, so therefore I was mistaken in claiming that NO ONE was representing this city.

That does not change my opinion about Commissioner "Selfie Boy." He should have been there dealing with perhaps the biggest and most troublesome issue in his District, and if, and only if, he had any time after attending this meeting he could have gone to the protest rally.

He was elected to represent and deal with the issues that impact the citizens of his District, and that's where he needs to focus him time and energies, and not pretending he's the next Democratic Golden Boy.

Al Crespo

January 23, 2017 9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot is made about displacing "residents" of Village West/Coconut Grove. We use the term residents very loosely as the turnover rate in these apartments are extremely high, 50% annually at best. Are they "residents" or "transients"??

January 23, 2017 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Selfie Boy was busy telling people at the women's Rally the importance of their vote while his voting record was dismal at best. Guess he's going to need their vote in the future. He then made sure they all knew his name and repeated it several times at the end of his speech. Then he hung out for about an hour backstage taking selfies and doing magic tricks. Just in case you wondered why he couldn't be at this meeting.

As long as we're at it, Crespo threw his full support behind the man he now calls "Selfie Boy". I'm sure this swayed a few voters his way. I would like to see an apology for that, along with an apology from Russell for not recognizing the importance of voting until he became a politician.

January 24, 2017 5:38 AM  

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