No one can sleep in total peace in many Miami inner-city buildings. Not because of thieves or noisy fights on the other side of the wall, but because of the lack of oversight by certain county and city officials — and our local governments’ evasion of accountability.
Their lack of care about the city’s most vulnerable residents who live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions — coupled with lobbying pressure from connected slumlords and investors who profit from this misery — form an equation equivalent to the housing scandals of the late 19th century, when basic health and safety requirements were finally forced on landlords.
An example that flashes somber lights over the city of Miami and its flawed leadership is embodied in the Havana Palms complex in Little Havana. Like other adjacent decrepit buildings — a stark contrast with the grotesque opulence of the Marlins Park — Havana Palms does not provide a decent home, a suitable living environment and not even a safe floor.
The five-building complex’s pathetic and dangerous structural conditions are generating panic and uncertainty among many residents and should motivate community grassroots organizations to raise their voices in defense of these people who live in precarious and undignified Third World conditions in a supposedly world-class city boasting to be the capital of the Americas.
It is appalling that despite its evident structural damage the condominium complex, in the 900 block of Southwest Second Street, passed inspection by appraisers and engineers in the summer of 2009.
It’s even more troubling that the city of Miami accepted the certification when just a few months before municipal inspectors had reported that, to guarantee its safety, the structure needed urgent repairs.
Four years later, the floor of a living room in a unit collapsed, making it clear that the city government ignored its responsibility to ensure the safety of its citizens.
If your outrage makes you want to scream, just wait a moment, please. Many units in this complex (built in 1946) were sold with cosmetic repairs hiding the structural defects, using taxpayer funds to provide subsidized financing.
My colleagues Melissa Sánchez and Brenda Medina have brought to light an old friendship between the entrepreneurs who sold most of the residential units in Havana Palms between 2006 and 2010 and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, whose district the complex is in.
Barreiro says that his friendship with Aníbal Duarte-Viera and Gabriel de la Campa had no influence on an offer he made to eight of the owners to help them convert to grants their low-interest county loans that they had received previously to purchase that property. They declined his offer because it required them to stay in their homes for 30 years, unreasonable by any standard, especially because of the terrible conditions of the buildings.
What they really needed was help in pressuring Montara Land V, LLC, the company owned by Duarte-Viera and De La Campa, which sold the units, to complete the structural repairs that were obviously necessary. The work was never completed and the company, like many others in the condo-conversion industry, shut down leaving buyers facing an uncertain fate.
No wonder the public feels deceived by politicians who never responded in a timely manner, as well as by local construction and code enforcement officials who ignored the residents’ plight. This is so sad.
The city and county have the legal responsibility to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens. This means required safety inspections for all development and redevelopment.
So they should not be providing loans for low-income residents to risk their life savings buying condo conversions that amount to slum property.
At the same time, the city is failing to enforce code requirements against landlords in the same area, allowing those properties to further deteriorate.
“Obviously there is more than one problem in the way local authorities are handling their responsibility to protect citizens from dangerous housing,” said Frank Schnidman, director of the Center for Urban Redevelopment Education at Florida Atlantic University.
That explains why so many old buildings in the new stadium’s shadow suffer from black-water floods, toxic mold, broken pipes, rotten roofs and even lack of windows or hot water — a menace to public health — and now collapsing floors.
It’s another sign that in Miami chaos reigns when it comes to providing safe housing for low-income citizens.