Activists and Little Haiti residents met at Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic church late last month to talk about issues of gentrification, development and affordable housing within the neighborhood.
Four speakers spoke on Jan. 23 about four development projects : Magic City, Miami Jewish Health System and Eastside ridge. The event was put on by The Concerned Leaders of Little Haiti, a group of community and faith-based organizations.
One of the speakers at the meeting was Jeremy Calleros Gauger, deputy director of Miami’s Planning Department. He said that under the current zoning laws, developers of projects are allowed to build up to five stories without permission from the city or the community.
“If they wanted to build a five story project they wouldn’t have to talk to you, they wouldn’t have to talk to me, they wouldn’t have to go through any public process at all,” he said. “They can demolish all the existing buildings whether they want to build a commercial or condo or rental is up to them but that’s what they’re allowed to do by right.”
Gauger also said that development in Little Haiti was inevitable due to its geographical value.
“Resiliency and proximity to transport is what makes it attractive to developers,” he said. “If you look at the geography and the limited amount of land in the city of Miami, you would see that Little Haiti was next.”
FIU journalism Professor Moses Shumow, who was also invited to speak, said that development projects could deteriorate Little Haiti’s deep-rooted culture and rich history through a process he called cultural erasure.
“It is a narrative” he said. “It’s this idea that we build in these areas because there was nothing here before and that’s certainly not true.”
Shumow said such stories allows for the dismantling of communities.
“There was a push, just a few years ago, to rename Little Haiti and call it Little River, “he said. “The signs were taken down that said welcome to Little Haiti and to me that was a symbol of, ‘Well why don’t we just rename this into something more attractive?’”
In addition, concerns about rising sea levels could lead to increased housing costs as people from richer areas literally move to higher ground — so-called “climate gentrification.”
Other speakers included Hernan Guerrero, the city of Miami Housing and Development Coordinator, and Jorge Damian De La Paz, the program manager at the University of Miami’s Office of Civic and Community Engagement.
Afterward, musician Patrick Dorce said he appreciated the information, but was left wondering about one of his main concerns.
“Nobody addressed what was gonna happen to people after these developers move in,” he said.
Dorce said he worries about those in Little Haiti who do not own a home and do not have an option to sell or move away.
“What’s gonna happen to people who don’t have property,” he said. People with property have options they can at least sell but what about those who don’t have that option?”
Another attendee, Malyka Zeraz, said that these events are important to the community and sees them as opportunities to organize and inform one another.
“Unity is power,” she said. “We have to organize and take it up to those in power, that’s the only way they’ll listen.”