Finding a place to live in Miami is hard. Even harder is finding a place to live, being kicked out and finding a new home — in a span of 15 days.
Miami Commissioner Ken Russell came to that conclusion after watching developers empty 120 units in the historically black West Grove neighborhood. And on Thursday, he convinced his colleagues to vote for reform, deciding that tenants paying monthly rents without a written lease should be due at least 30-days notice when facing the termination of their tenancy — double what Florida law requires.
Russell sponsored the ordinance, which drew widespread support from affordable housing groups, like Miami Homes for All. It drew sharp rebuke from individuals representing the Southeast Florida Apartment Association, who argued the extension would infringe on landlords’ rights and possibly create a backlog for incoming tenants. Dozens of them lined up inside Miami’s City Hall during Thursday’s commission meeting and took turns attempting to sway the vote.
Russell said the lack of affordable housing and the rate of homelessness are intertwined, and it’s the responsibility of the commission to advocate for the city’s most defenseless residents.
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“There is the market-rate Miami, which is a great help to our tax base and we appreciate that, but they’re doing just fine. The other half of Miami that really needs our help and attention has a reality where, as we know, the rent is too damn high,” Russell said. “It’s hard to find a place to live in Miami, and when you have to move and find a new place, it can be even harder.
“For us to not help when we can is to contribute to the problem,” he said.
However, there was some confusion as to what the ordinance would do, from critics and supporters — and even Russell’s social media staff. Russell said the ordinance does not affect evictions, which are lawsuits landlords can file to force a tenant to vacate their unit.
From Russell’s Twitter and Facebook pages, one of his aides sent out a post that conflated the two matters, along with a large blue banner with the word “Evictions” on it. Russell immediately deleted those posts after a reporter notified him of the error. He said the issues are easily misunderstood, but it’s important to set the record straight.
“We need to take things a step at a time here. Specifically, tenancies are being ended. Evictions are a part of state law that we’re not touching,” he said. With the new ordinance, “we’re able to create some relief for people who are at risk.”
Donna Miller, the president of the Southeast Florida Apartment Association, warned the commissioners of the unintended consequences this extension could have. But her anger appeared to be based on the misinterpretation involving evictions.
“It’s important that you do know that it can negatively affect and prolong eviction processes for landlords,” she said.
Marlene Bastien, the executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, which offers social services to residents in Little Haiti and throughout Miami, said the main worry among her members is affordable housing.
She praised the resolution, arguing it was necessary to deal with the “new breed of homelessness” she said plagues Miami. Employed, salary-earning adults are struggling to find housing, she said.
“This is the least we can do to help families,” she said. “We are facing a great housing crisis in our community.”