Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County does a U-turn on ‘José Milton Way’

In this file photo, José Milton, at right, looks over an apartment job.
In this file photo, José Milton, at right, looks over an apartment job. The Miami Herald - Archives

There will be no José Milton Way in Miami-Dade County — at least not for now.

Miami-Dade commissioners backed away from the previously approved street naming on Wednesday, two days after the Milton family’s real estate businesses were again sued for racial discrimination.

“Until the court renders an opinion over that, I feel that it is inappropriate to move forward with that decision to name the street,” Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Jean Monestime told his colleagues.

The new lawsuit accuses two Milton family companies of discouraging blacks from renting at a North Miami Beach apartment complex by falsely telling them that no apartments were available or quoting inflated, inaccurate rental prices in an effort to discourage the black renters from consider living there.

The new lawsuit doesn’t involve José Milton directly — he died two years ago. The family real estate business is now run by Milton’s sons, who vigorously deny the latest allegations. In a letter sent to at least one county commissioner, Cecil Milton wrote that there is “no merit” to the suit.

“There is a principle in this country that one is innocent until proven guilty,” Milton wrote. “Please do not rush to judgment.”

José Milton Way would have been designated along a portion of the Northwest 9500 block at the intersection with Fontainebleau Boulevard.

Two weeks ago, before the latest lawsuit, some black commissioners had argued that the street naming was a bad idea because José Milton’s companies were accused of discriminating against black renters in separate lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s. The second case ended with Milton’s companies paying a $1.2 million settlement — which at the time represented the largest settlement ever paid to the U.S. Department of Justice in a rental housing discrimination case based on race. José Milton admitted no wrongdoing in that settlement.

On Sept. 1, when a majority of county commissioners approved the street naming, they argued that Milton had done many positive things for the community, including donating money to county parks. The discrimination allegations were old news, several commissioners said.

The name change passed by a 7-4 vote, after heated debate.

Monestime, who is Haitian American, was the only black commissioner to initially support the naming. At the time, he praised Milton’s humanitarian work in Africa and Haiti.

But Monday’s lawsuit changed everything. The allegations center around the Aventura Harbor Apartments, 19455 NE 10th Ave, which previously operated under the name Beverly Hills Club Apartments. This same apartment complex was accused of discrimination in the previous lawsuits against the Milton real estate businesses.

Because Monestime was on the winning side of the Sept. 1 vote, he was able to bring the matter back for reconsideration on Wednesday. And Commissioner Javier Souto, who had originally sponsored the street naming, withdrew his sponsorship “due to new allegations,” according to a memo Souto wrote to the county attorney.

With Souto’s sponsorship removed, the naming proposal died because it no longer had a sponsor.

Two commissioners, Bruno Barreiro and Jose “Pepe” Diaz, voted against Monestime’s request to reconsider the naming. Both supported the street naming in the vote held earlier this month.

Diaz told the Herald he would have supported canceling the naming if the wrongdoing was proven, but for now, it’s just allegations.

“There’s a due process,” Diaz said.

In a letter to Diaz’s office, Cecil Milton offered to voluntarily postpone the street naming until the lawsuit is concluded, though he wanted to county to keep its Sept. 1 approval vote in place.

“Be assured that this case will not be settled under any circumstances, no matter what the cost,” Milton wrote. “We have every intention of going to trial, which will provide total transparency and ultimately the truth.”