‘Basically an eviction.’ At Miami rent rally stories of $750 increase and grim choices

Emily Moloney felt good about her place in the Miami economy when the year
began: She was earning $85,000 in a tech job and covering rent on a one-bedroom
downtown apartment. Then came the notice of a $750 rent increase within 90

“I let them know this is basically an eviction,” Moloney, 31, said of the 40% hike
needed to stay in her home. “I found Miami pretty affordable, until now.”
Moloney was one of about 30 people who joined Miami’s latest rally to protest rent
spikes and demand government action on a housing market that’s considered a
crisis by affordability activists, elected leaders and others warning of rising prices
endangering the workforce.

A national ranking of rental costs from apartment-listing company Redfin found
the greater Miami area, which includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, had
the fifth highest rent increases last year in the country, up 31%.

Data from Apartment List found the Miami area not quite as inflated as other
metro areas, with a 27% rent increase landing the region at 11th on that ranking.
Nelida Jean-Baptiste Pellot said she gave up on Miami last summer after losing her
home to a fire. Making about $50,000 a year as a community organizer, the 36-
year-old said finding a new place to live meant grim choices. “The places I could
afford were scary: mold, rats, roaches,” she said. Now she’s living in Vero Beach.

The “Rent is Too Damn High” rally was organized by SMASH — an advocacy group
formally named Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing.

It was timed to coincide with Miami-Dade commissioners passing a new rule
requiring 60-day notice for rent increases over 5%. The board also is considering
legislation that could lead to a referendum on whether to freeze rents for a year —
a proposal expected to come before the commission by the summer.

The county’s mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, joined the event and said the current
path of soaring rents was not sustainable. “I’m with you 100%,” she told participants. “We’re grateful for you stepping up and being the voice of the community for this crisis that cannot continue.”

Daniella Pierre, 40, told the crowd that housing prices are driving out middle-class
professionals such as teachers. She said there’s no option if she ever loses her spot
in an affordable building. “I’ve looked all over the county,” said Pierre, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. “I can’t go anywhere.”

Moloney walked to the rally, where the crowd outside Miami-Dade’s Stephen P.
Clark government center chanted “Housing is a human right.” “I had to be here,” she said. One message she wanted to share was the possibility of tenants pushing back. While her landlord wanted a $750 increase, Moloney said she was able to negotiate a smaller rise of $250. “I’m not going to live above my means,” she said. “You have to know if your landlord is relying on your rent to survive, or if they’re price gouging. I knew they were price gouging.”

Sofia Prado, 24, described herself as struggling on the lower end of Miami’s rental market, with a pipe leaking into the wall and a fridge that’s so cold it’s basically a freezer. She and a roommate share a 400-square-foot efficiency in Little Haiti, where a bunk bed allows for more space. Rent is $975 a month.

A dog walker with a carpentry side job who is studying psychology at Miami Dade College, Prado previously lived in South Dade for the cheaper rent. But the commute ended up being too long to the Miami area, where she has school and work.

Prado grew up in Miami, with parents from Nicaragua working in construction and housekeeping to pay bills. Now she is looking to leave Miami. “Life isn’t easy. I get it,” Prado said. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for school, I would have left already.”

To view the full article with photos visit: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article259390649.html

Extreme Heat

Extreme temperatures have been an obvious outcome of climate change already. In the north, that has meant devastatingly cold winters with polar vortexes, power outages, and preventable deaths. In the south, it has meant the opposite. The past 7 years have all placed within the top seven hottest years on recordMiami now sees an average of 133 high heat days, 27 more than was average in 1995. This is expected to continue to riseExtreme heat has contributed to 12,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from 2010-2020. The National Weather Service reports that extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.SHealth risks of extreme heat include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death. It can also exacerbate existing conditions. 

Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of these public health impacts. The average temperature can vary drastically based upon zip codes due to factors such as less tree cover and more heat-absorbing concrete. In Miami’s lower income, mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods like Little Haiti, Little Havana and Liberty City, tree cover can be as little as 10%, compared to around 40% in upscale coastal areasIn the first image below (Left), dark green is healthy vegetation and light green to white are more urban areas with depleted to no vegetation. These less green areas correspond to hotter temperatures (Right).

Further, these lower-income areas have insufficient infrastructure to handle heat emergencies. In what is now America’s least affordable housing market, the high cost of running air-conditioning forces people to choose how often they can afford to even run the air conditioning, and when they need to face the heat to cut costs. People living under the poverty line are 50% more likely to experience the effects of heat islands than those of higher income urban areas. Fill out this survey to help document these rising temperatures.

Miami has recently created a Climate and Heat Health Task Force and appointed a Chief Heat Officer, working to address these disparities that predominantly impact minorities. There is much that needs to be done to address this root issue, but is a vital step in the right direction. The Miami Foundation has released a Miami-Dade Extreme Heat Toolkit, which further outlines the catastrophic heat trends we are seeing here in Miami, as well as critical steps that need to be taken to assuage the threat our high temperatures impose on at risk populations. MCARE stands behind these recommendations in strong support. They include but are not limited to measures that increase green spaces and playgrounds. Shade for bus stops is also vital for those who rely in public transit to commute. We need to set a statewide standard for outdoor workers to receive adequate water, shade and restAdditionally, implementation of cooling centers, a cool site, or air conditioned building designated as a safe location during extreme heat, is a common strategy that Miami also needs to implement for the safety of our high-risk citizens.

Miami’s Climate Gentrification Crisis

On April 1st at 2pm, IGNITE National will be hosting our Miami community council on Miami’s climate gentrification crisis. It will be facilitated by myself and will include well versed panelists to discuss rent spikes, climate change and how its fueling mass gentrification in our beloved neighborhoods. Please join me as we embark on a much needed discussion to think critically on the issue at hand and our next steps. 

Accused Miami Serial Killer Willy Suarez Maceo Charged In The Murders Of Two Homeless Men

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has formally charged Willy Suarez Maceo in the murders of two homeless men in Miami.

“These types of homicides are best known as serial killings. It’s a series of chances like detached killings that can defy a community’s perception of danger and safety,” said Fernandez Rundle.

Maceo has been charged with first-degree murder in the killings of a 56-year-old man on December 21, 2021, and a 59-year-old man in October 2021.

He’s also been charged with attempted murder for another shooting in December.

In that October murder, investigators released a video showing a man, who they believe was Maceo walking toward the scene, then later running away. The video shows him getting into, what appeared to be, a dark Dodge Charger.

“These types of anonymous seemingly haphazard killings can create a real sense of fear and unease, particularly among those who may identify as part of a targeted population,” said Fernandez Rundle.

“In this case, the targeted population were Miami Dade homeless men who sleep outdoors in our community. These are some of our most vulnerable individuals in our community.”

Maceo, 25, was arrested at the end of last year and has been held without bond.

In the December shooting, a witness flagged down an officer in 400 block of SW 2 Avenue at 8 p.m. about a person suffering from blunt force trauma to the head.

The officer discovered the man was suffering from a gunshot wound. He was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital in extremely critical condition. That man survived.

Nearly two hours later, another man was found dead from a gunshot wound in the area of Miami Avenue and 21 Street in Wynwood.

Investigators showed surveillance video of what they believe is the same Dodge Charger pulling up and shooting out the window hitting the victim 5 times.

Police were able to get a partial tag. They quickly found the car and suspect.

Miami police said they were able to link Maceo to the shootings using ballistic test results from recovered bullet casings and surveillance video.

He was taken to the station for questioning and arrested in December.

On Friday, he was officially charged with the shootings. He’s being held without bond.

David Peery, with The Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, a non-profit that advocates for the homeless said a lot more needs to be done to protect the homeless population, including changing the narrative of how the homeless are perceived.

“To me, it’s no surprise that you’ll see somebody out there who is exerting violence on the homeless given that the city has created an environment of dehumanization of the homeless,” said Peery who blames the City of Miami for the increase in crime against the population.

“The very first thing the city must do is stop the demagoguery, stop dehumanizing people who are victims of poverty and who are vulnerable to this type of violence on a daily basis,” added Peery.

Click here to watch the news story from CBS 4 Miami

Program to deliver COVID-19 tests leaves out the houseless

Two years into the pandemic, the Biden administration’s first direct testing response leaves a lot to be desired
Dr. Natalia Echeverri, (R) uses a swab to gather a sample from the nose of Sammy Carpenter, who said he is homeless, to test him for COVID-19 on April 17, 2020, in Miami, Florida. Dr. Echeverri is part of a group of community organizations that are helping the homeless by providing tests, protective masks, gloves, tents, and other items to the people in need. The organizations feel that the local government programs are not doing enough for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This month, the Biden administration launched a program to deliver four COVID-19 rapid tests per household to people with an address across the country. While the program will deliver 500 million tests, advocates say it innately disadvantages houseless people, multigenerational households, and those who live in apartment buildings that may be subject to a glitch in the system that only allows one set per building. Ultimately, the program is most helpful for those who fulfill the traditional American nuclear family, leaving out the populations most at risk of contracting the virus because of their inability to afford living on their own. The demand for testing comes when community spread is rampant, and the country is still averaging close to 700,000 new cases a day. The Biden administration’s first direct testing response leaves a lot to be desired two years into the pandemic.

“There’s clearly a very myopic view of how to handle this rollout, which has consistently been a problem this entire pandemic,” said Dr. Imani E. McElroy, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. “[The rollout] directly benefits those who have the privilege of high-quality access.”

McElroy lives in an apartment building in East Boston with about six units in a neighborhood with a Latinx population of 52.9%, which she says has been severely impacted by COVID-19. Soon after the program was announced, she read that people who lived in apartment complexes could not order their quota if someone else in the building had already placed an order. She has held off on ordering her own until she confirms that her neighbors, including a multi-generational family, can apply for their tests. As a physician, she has access to COVID-19 tests through her department.

“I didn’t want to affect their ability to get their test,” McElroy said. 

According to Generations United, an estimated 66.7 million adults, or one in four people in the U.S., live in a multigenerational household. While some live in multigenerational households for cultural reasons, many people have been forced into them because of the rising cost of living across the nation. In October last year, the Federal Register reported that the cost of living for 2022 would increase 5.9%. In Boston, where McElroy lives, the cost of living is 51% higher than the national average. In a 2016 Pew Research study, Black, Latinx, and Asian families were more likely to live in multigenerational households than white families. For these households, quarantining and self-isolating during a pandemic is much more precarious than usual. According to a public health study on multigenerational households in New York City, overcrowded homes and multigenerational housing are independent risk factors for COVID-19.

“The largest affected populations by COVID have been populations that can’t afford to live on their own and can’t self-quarantine,” McElroy said. “You’re getting rapid transmission throughout these communities.”

McElroy suggests that the federal government use census data to send more tests to households that may need more, and have an efficient way of requesting more tests as required. She also suggested having the option to send them to a P.O. box if needed. The U.S. Postal Service has not responded to a request for more information on any future distribution programs.

“There has to be a way to petition to be able to get more tests,” McElroy said. “There’s a lot of stopgaps that could have been used to prevent the issues that we’re consistently seeing in this response.”

Houseless people, who do not have a permanent address to include on the form, have also been left out of the current program. Referred to as “the invisible victims” of COVID-19, few resources keep track of the number of infections and deaths among the houseless community.

Even if houseless people were to have access to at-home rapid tests, David Peery, the founder of Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equality, says it would be difficult to keep them in their possession. Many houseless people who live in encampments are subject to frequent street sweepings that trash and destroy all of their possessions.

“[The government] can give out a testing kit on a Monday, and the City can come and do a sweep the very next day and destroy everything and throw all your stuff away,” Peery said. “It’s very hard to keep possessions when you don’t have a home.”

According to Peery, a more comprehensive solution would be to expand non-congregated emergency shelters by contracting and renting hotel and motel rooms. He says that more private rooms used in cities across the country since the start of the pandemic for isolation purposes, including Atlanta, should be expanded as emergency shelter alternatives as opposed to the traditional emergency congregate shelters that pack people into a dorm room. A public health study supports Peery’s idea, suggesting that isolation hotels help mitigate the spread of Covid-19 among houseless populations.

“Non-congregate settings have proven to be much more effective in getting people off the streets. Now you have a roof over your head, you have a door you can lock, and you can store your possessions, including these at-home testing kits,” Peery said. “They’ll also be protected from infections and it will provide a path to permanent housing.”

Before the government launches another program to distribute tests or personal protective equipment, people across the country say considerations should be made to reach the communities most vulnerable with the least amount of access to these mitigating measures.

Click here to read the original article from prismreports.org

WLRN Puts the Spotlight on Homelessness in Miami

The city of Miami has a few million dollars in federal money to help those experiencing homelessness.

The City of Miami is infusing more money into efforts to try and reduce homelessness, using $3.1 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The goal is to reduce homelessness in Miami down to “functional zero.” What that actually means is in question.

“It really is a measurable end to homelessness, and being able to sustain that with the right systems in place. Certainly, that is a target and a goal,” said Symeria Hudson, President and CEO of Chapman Partnership. “That’s something that many have been working toward for quite some time.”

The Chapman Partnership was awarded $200,000 to boost workforce training programs, as part of the funding breakdown.

But the decision comes after a string of recent restrictions from the city, including banning encampments, restricting where and how aid groups can feed people, and even creating a program where city residents can “adopt” people experiencing homelessness.

“In order for us to truly end homelessness in Miami, we must first stop the criminalization of homelessness,” David Peery said. He is the Chair of the Consumer Advisory Board of the Camillus Health Concern community clinic, which serves the homeless population of Miami. He’s also the Executive Director of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity – or MCARE. He continued:

“Quite frankly, I’m not aware of what functional zero actually is. It appears to be something different than zero, and so there’s somewhat of a misnomer in what it means. I would take that it is a well-intentioned, good-faith effort to end homelessness. But quite frankly, it’s not at all clear as to exactly what it is, and the definition tends to vary depending on who you talk to.”

Click here to listen to the full episode on WLRN.org

MCARE Sends Open Letter to Miami Officials Over Threats of Evicting Homeless on Christmas

Sent December 29, 2021
To: Francis Suarez, Mayor, City of Miami
Christine King, Chair, City of Miami Commission
Victoria Méndez, Miami City Attorney
Art Noriega, Miami City Manager
William Porro, Director, Miami Department of Human Services
RE: Eviction Notices at the Wharf Homeless Encampment

We — concerned physicians, the Miami Street Medicine Team, the Greater Miami ACLU, the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity (MCARE), and other organizations and advocates concerned for the rights of persons experiencing homelessness — write to request that the City of Miami revoke its expressed intent to dismantle the homeless encampment on SW 2nd Street between SW 2nd Avenue and the Miami River (the “Wharf area”) during the COVID omicron variant surge.

The timing of evicting unhoused persons from the area during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays renders the City’s plans especially cruel. And given the heightened transmissibility of the omicron variant, and the federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines warning of the grave public health dangers of dispersing homeless persons during the pandemic, the City’s plans are reckless and endanger the community.

As you know, on December 21st the Miami Department of Human Services posted numerous
eviction notices on the fences in the Wharf area, warning the unhoused persons living there to vacate the area due to purported “construction” on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021. This threat to evict homeless persons on Christmas Eve signals that the City has sunk to an inhumane new low in its ongoing campaign to criminalize homelessness.

Of course, no construction started in the Wharf area on Christmas Eve, which was also a federal and state holiday. But the impact of the notices is clear: they compound the trauma of persons living on the streets and will pressure them to leave the area at a difficult time. As a result, we’ve received multiple reports of heightened anxiety suffered by this vulnerable population of unhoused persons already stressed by the City’s recent enactment of an ordinance banning encampments, which threatens the possibility of widespread arrests and fines for the “crime” of not being able to afford a home.

Aside from the cruelty of threatening to evict unhoused persons during the holidays, it is utterly dangerous and irresponsible for the City to dismantle homeless encampments during the COVID pandemic. The federal Centers for Disease Control advises localities to “allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” The CDC further notes that–

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break
connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

Centers for Disease Control

MCARE is an alliance of 22 organizations advocating for the rights of persons experiencing homelessness through the MCARE Housing Justice Campaign.

This federal directive not to dismantle encampments during the COVID pandemic is heightened now when the omicron variant is surging and infections are increasing at an exponential rate throughout Miami-Dade County. By ignoring federal health guidelines during this time of escalating COVID infections, the City threatens to ignite a public health crisis if it follows through on its threat to clear the homeless encampment at the Wharf.

The health professional signatories to this letter have previously witnessed unhoused persons suffering severe physical and mental trauma resulting from the City’s aggressive dismantling of encampments: a woman convulsing on the street shortly after the City trashed her medications; another person being dragged down the street while still in his tent. The City’s encampment clearings are violent affairs that traumatize our community’s most vulnerable residents even in the best of circumstances.

Simply put, the City’s intent to dismantle the encampment at the Wharf during the omicron variant surge would spark a public health crisis, further inflict serious trauma and property loss on those affected, violate their constitutional rights and the City’s own regulations, and disrespect the solemn assurances the City gave in federal court that it would continue to observe the Pottinger protections even after termination of the Consent Decree.

We request that the City retract its stated intent to dismantle the encampment at the Wharf area during the omicron variant surge. We are available to discuss constructive alternatives to the dismantling of the encampment. Please respond to David Peery, Executive Director, Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, info@miamiracialequity.org, (305) 345-7037.

David Peery, Founder, Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity
Armen Henderson, MD, Dade County Street Response (Miami Street Medicine Team)
Rossana Arteaga-Gomez, Esq., President, ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter
Benji Waxman, Esq., Board Member, ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter
Alana Greer, Esq., Community Justice Project
Mara Shlackman, Esq., South Florida Chapter, National Lawyers Guild
Dante P. Trevisani, Esq., Florida Justice Institute
Jose Dominguez, People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade
Katrina Duesterhaus, Communications Director, Florida National Organization for Women
Emelie Jimenez, Founder, The BC Community Project
Lauren Mason, Be The Change, South Florida
Noelvis Gonzalez, One World.One Heart
Dan Bergholz (MD Candidate), Founder, Miami Street Medicine
Edward Noguera and Morgan Murphy, CoChairs, Miami Chapter Democratic Socialists of America
Katrina Ciraldo, MD
Sabrina Hennecke (MD/MPH candidate)
Alison Dos Santos
Laurie Scop
Nicole Schmidt

Cc: Daniella Levine-Cava, Mayor, Miami-Dade County
Ron Book, Chair, Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust
Victoria Mallette, Executive Director, Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust
David Rosemond, Department of Human Services HEAT Unit
Sergio Torres, Director, Miami Department of Veteran Affairs and Homeless Services
Annie Lord, Executive Director, Miami Homes For All
Bianca Marcof, Biscayne Times and Miami Times
Anna Kaiser, Miami Herald
Miami New Times
Daniel Rivero, WLRN

November 15th Stop The Sweep Campaign Success Documented by Miami Herald

“Police, water truck, dumpster arrive to clean homeless area under I-95 — then pull back”

Link to original story here.

Robert Pearson and Farrah Milton left the tent they’re living in on SW 2nd St. in downtown Miami on Wednesday morning to find a notice from the city of Miami: “This area will be cleaned on Wednesday November 17th” “They’re coming today,” Pearson said at 8:30 a.m., with Milton, his fiance, by his side. The previous week, a near-identical notice warned of “cleanings” throughout the week of November 15-19 and warned people residing on SW 2nd St. underneath the I-95 overpass to remove their personal belongings from the site. But the cleanup, which sent a wave of fear and anxiety throughout the blocks under the overpass where some 20 tents are pitched, did not happen.

At around 9:30 a.m. the homeless people on the block noticed police cars, a water tank and a dump truck with a claw for picking things up off the street, which they recognized from previous “cleaning” efforts, where police removed them and threw away their belongings. Police and outreach officers from the Miami Homeless Assistance Program, commonly known as “green shirts,” spoke to homeless people, several of whom accepted shelter beds. After about an hour, the police cars, water truck and dump truck left without having done the cleaning the notices had warned about, leaving homeless people and advocates confused.

The notice was posted by the city of Miami’s Department of Human Services. The DHS has not responded to multiple requests for comment and clarification about the cleaning notices. Outreach officers at the scene said they were not authorized to speak about what they were doing. Police officers only said they were “working” and “doing outreach,” and would not give any more information. Homeless people like Pearson and Milton are worried about their fate after getting the notice. The couple both grew up in Liberty City and most recently were living in West Palm Beach before becoming homeless about a month ago. They say they’ve been trying to get shelter beds but so far have been unable to. “They say they’re coming today but where are we supposed to go?” Pearson said. “It’s dangerous out here,” said Milton, who has medical issues, including seizures. “But we don’t have any other choice.”

Many other homeless people say that shelters can feel like prisons and have grown a distrust for Miami’s authorities after having their things destroyed during cleanings in the past. “They took everything from me. I lost my birth certificate, my Social Security card and my medications during one of those cleanups,” said Jerry Mobley, 58, who has been living on the streets for 11 years. “Them coming in with all that muscle like that, how can I trust them?” The posted warnings about cleanings come around two weeks after the Miami City Commission passed a controversial ordinance that outlaws encampments and says that officers should arrest violators who refuse to go to a shelter. The ordinance, which was met with fierce opposition from housing rights’ activists, will go into effect on November 28. David Peery, an attorney and homeless advocate, said that he was confused by the warning signs posted. “The anxiety is thick in the air,” Peery said. “These are not just cleanups. In the past, they’ve been violent actions that traumatize people. And we don’t know what’s going on now and how it’s gonna be implemented.”

Commission passes anti-camping ordinance

Miami Times Staff Report

Link to original story here.

A Miami City Commission vote that homeless advocates had been dreading for weeks happened last Thursday after it was deferred on Oct. 14

Despite several attempts from housing rights groups to stop the passage of an anti-camping ordinance, it passed 4-1 in a final reading with only Commissioner Ken Russell dissenting.

The ordinance, which will go into effect in less than 30 days, prohibits temporary housing structures and encampments on public property, giving police authority to issue warnings or arrest anyone violating the new law.

Officers must offer an alternative to individuals experiencing homelessness who are living in makeshift encampments. After refusal to relocate to a shelter and clear out belongings within two hours, arrests can be made.

“The anti-encampment is not new,” said activist David Peery during public comment. “What’s worse is that we’re going to be paying more money to not solve the problem. Arrests are simply a way to make homelessness worse.”

District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo, who sponsored the ordinance, showed a documentary-style video prior to the vote to support his belief that Miami’s homeless population consists of drug addicts.

The video shows Carollo going around asking individuals on the street if they were homeless and whether they’d be interested in being directed to a nearby shelter. For reasons not specified in the video, a majority of the people Carollo spoke with turned down his offer.

Carollo told commissioners that he believed it was because guidelines and rules at homeless shelters make it difficult for addicts to continue doing drugs.

“What I’m not going to do any longer is [feed] the beast of homelessness,” he said during the meeting, explaining that the city has spent too much money addressing its homelessness problem. “Our residents are going to be treated with the same courtesy, professionalism and the same rights that homeless people are in our streets. Our residents are the ones that have become second-class citizens and it’s not right [in] our society.”

Alongside the ordinance, commissioners passed the “Adopt a Homeless” resolution, also sponsored by Carollo, in a 3-2 vote.

Through the resolution, city residents can sign up to provide necessities like a bed, food, water and electricity to homeless individuals.

City Manager Art Noriega is responsible for maintaining a list of volunteers and finding financial assistance programs to “reimburse” residents, eliminating a financial burden on the city.

“We don’t have to provide a 5-star hotel service of encampment,” added Carollo.