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Housing state of emergency needed, advocates say

Problem likened to Flint’s water crisis

Jun 14, 2017
By Philippe H. Buteau Special to The Miami Times

Marleine Bastien, left, and Daniella Pierre address attendees about South Florida's housing crisis 
at Catalyst Miami's Anti-Poverty Summit on June 3.


Flint, Michigan needs clean water; Miami needs affordable housing. Flint is in a state of emergency and the same is needed for Miami’s crisis, according to Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami Inc.

On Tuesday, Daniella Pierre, president of On the Grid Community Solutions LLC, made a call for a housing state of emergency.

“For years, affordable housing has been stigmatized as a problem only for the poor. But it is clear that un-affordability crosses income, race and gender lines,” Pierre wrote in a statement entitled Local Advocate calls for Housing State of Emergency. “Now, the lack of same, discredited affordable housing, layered with barriers to entry and antiquated policies, have led to a State of Emergency.”

Pierre, who writes a column called “Affordable Housing Matters” in The Miami Times and is housing chair for the Miami Dade Branch NAACP, called for a housing state of emergency in her May 24 column. Pierre and Bastien made a case for the state of emergency at a Catalyst Miami anti-poverty meeting June 3 at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus.

Bastien said South Florida’s housing crisis is compounded by the low income of most people who seek housing compared with the average cost. The housing problem stretches all the way up to Palm Beach County but is felt the hardest in Miami-Dade County. In Broward County rent is on average $1,800 and $1,900 in Palm Beach. But Miami-Dade has the highest rent costs with an average of $2,175, which makes it unaffordable for 89 percent of renters.

The median-income in Miami-Dade County is $51,800. In Little Haiti, the median household income is well below the income of the overall city of Miami, which is $30,375, according to “Little Haiti Community Needs Assessment: Housing Market Analysis” from Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center published in 2015.

Bastien said the people she helps make between $19,000-$24,000 annually.

“We’re creating a space for them to be forced out,” Bastien said.

Bastien said Miami needs workforce housing more than it needs luxury apartments.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has yet to respond to an email asking whether he’d declare a state of emergency as it relates to housing.

Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell said “crisis is an understatement” but wouldn’t go as far as saying it is a state of emergency. In any case, the city should act.

“We need to put our finger on that scale,” Russell said. “It’s an untenable situation.”

Russell said he’s already looking into it and wants to put brakes on the system so there are safeguards for those at risk for eviction.

He wants to expand a community redevelopment agency, which he said has 500 units in line for planning and development.

But despite his plans, Russell said the West Grove, an area of Coconut Grove that was originally settled by Bahamians, is the largest target for gentrification. In the next six months, people in 120 housing units are at risk for eviction.

The evictions increase the potential for homelessness. The people may not be able to find units that offer $500-$750 per month rental payments as they were previously paying, which leaves them with putting themselves on a waiting list of about 10,000 people, managed by Miami-Dade County.

“It’s not fault of the county,” Russell said. “It’s just not affordable housing.”

Flint switched to the Flint River as a water source in 2014 and it led to increased lead in the city’s drinking water. The Flint and Genesee counties’ health departments issued a health advisory in 2015.

Flint has set up “State of Emergency” and “How Can I Help” pages on the city’s website to coordinate help its community find and direct others to donate water. Flint residents must still test their water regularly and filter drinking water.

Genesee County and the state of Michigan also declared emergencies in January 2016 in response to the man-made problem.

Flint’s spokesman Kristin Moore said the state of emergency has helped.

“The emergency declaration has been very helpful in raising awareness about the man-made disaster,” Moore wrote in an email. “It also activated the City’s Emergency Support Plan to aid in the response to the crisis.”

Bastien said some kind of rent stability program is necessary in South Florida because too many people spend more than 50 percent of their salary on rent.

“We need to help families stay in their homes and not get forced out because the cost of living increases but salaries remain stagnant,” she said.


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