Little Haiti leaders and residents concerned as investors start to eye neighborhood

Representatives from the Haitian Lawyers Association told Haitian residents in Little Haiti that the community needs to remain observant. Miami's downtown boom is changing Little Haiti's housing market, and Haitians – many who speak Creole as a first language – can be susceptible to abuse from landlords if gone unchecked.

On Tuesday, the lawyers association and and local real estate agents answered questions in Creole at a special tenant forum about the rights Florida law grants to renters.

Most agreed the conversation was needed. Little Haiti is the next downtown neighborhood in place for a revival –– or gentrification, depending on who you ask.

Schiller Jerome, a real estate agent and landlord who spoke at the forum, said often times Haitians don’t protect themselves from landlords, relying heavily on cash deals and verbal agreements.

Another concern for Haitians in the neighborhood is ownership.

“In our community, we mostly have tenants,” Jerome said of Haitian stores in the area. “About 85 percent of [Haitian] business probably rent their office spaces and a lot of them don’t understand what they’re signing.”

For example, commercial renters can’t rely on a landlord to repair pipes or windows and are generally less protected than residential renters who can.

“When you rent a residential home, you’re protected by federal and county housing standards,” Jerome said, who manages several properties throughout Little Haiti. “For commercial properties, its based on what ever you agree on. I wouldn’t sign a lease with out a lawyer present. It’s suicide.”

But business owners generally don’t take those precautions, said Joann Milord, executive director of Northeast 2nd Avenue Partnership. Businesses and residents, she said, need to reeducate themselves to stay ahead of landlords and any development – especially the spillover of artist moving north.

“This is the next piece of land because it’s still cheaper than Wynwood,” Milord said.

The South Florida real estate market is expected to slow down, according to a Miami Herald report published in June. The reason for most buyers is overpriced homes.

But that’s not the case in Little Haiti.

“The whole Little Haiti area looks very affordable,” said Christopher Zoller, a broker at EWM Realty International and president of the Miami Association of Realtors.

Midtown’s growth has stalled just south of 54th Street. The effects still haven't drastically changed housing prices in Little Haiti, Zoller said.

“If I was an investor, I’d be buying in here because it’s the next best thing,” Zoller said.

The median price for a home in Miami-Dade County is $282,000, while the average price for a home is $480,000.

Last year, Zoller said, more than 70 percent of homes in Little Haiti sold for under $100,000.

For single-family homes last year, the highest rental price was $2,600, while the average price fell around $1,200.

“That’s very affordable,” Zoller said especially for a younger demographic looking to live close to downtown.

But buyers and renters can expect prices to increase – at a gradual pace similar to the last few years. That’s because of a short supply of homes on market, he said.

On average, most homes in Little Haiti stay on the market for 20 days.

Jerome said renters are catching on to the trend. The biggest concern from tenants, he said, is an increase in market price.

“The Haitian community is being gradually forced out,” Jerome said, but the migration isn’t specific to just Haitians. “Two years ago, you could have found a space in Little Haiti for $15 per square foot. Today it’s around $30.”

Zoller said that the increase has been steady and still isn’t enough to push out all the neighborhood's low-income renters away, but the day “is coming.”

The Northeast 2nd Avenue Partnership said they will continue hosting work shops and forums catered towards creole-speaking Haitians.