Hurricane

Hurricane Irma leaves these residents stranded. And many are elderly Hispanics.

The Civic Towers Section 8 housing project in Allapattah on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. About a dozen elderly residents who live there were stranded Monday after they returned from the shelter they were staying in through Hurricane Irma. They had been told they could return to their home, but when they got there they were not allowed in as the building had to be inspected after the storm by the city of Miami. The residents had nowhere to go and planned to sleep outside at the site on Monday night.
The Civic Towers Section 8 housing project in Allapattah on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. About a dozen elderly residents who live there were stranded Monday after they returned from the shelter they were staying in through Hurricane Irma. They had been told they could return to their home, but when they got there they were not allowed in as the building had to be inspected after the storm by the city of Miami. The residents had nowhere to go and planned to sleep outside at the site on Monday night. spereira@MiamiHerald.com

Hurricane Irma may have left downed power lines, uprooted trees and millions without power — but it's not a natural disaster that stranded around a dozen elderly public housing residents.

Monday morning, evacuees of Civic Towers Section 8 housing in Allapattah returned to their home to find it boarded up from the hurricane. Around 15 residents gathered at the bottom of the building at 9 a.m., according to resident Olga Vicente and others.

By 5:30 p.m., they were still there.

“It’s a shame,” said Onelia Corona,76, in Spanish of the horrendous shelter situation as well as being stranded without the ability to enter her home again.

Two police officers had arrived earlier in the day to explain to the residents they could not enter the building because it was too dangerous, said Vicente. They told them to wait downstairs for someone to inspect the building.

Civic Towers had sustained damage, and it was necessary to be cleared by the city before residents could return to their apartments, according to the general contractor for the building's ongoing construction Peter Vicari.

“It's basically in the city's hands,” said Vicari. “We're at the mercy of the city.”

Without a car, the residents were stuck. Miami-Dade public transportation was still halted on Monday. They had been staying at a shelter, but said they were told they could leave on Monday since the storm had passed.They did not know their building would be inaccessible due to safety concerns.

Besides, many had gone without a shower for five days after they were transported to a shelter in North Miami Beach on Thursday. They didn't have water or blankets, and slept on pieces of cardboard boxes, according to another resident Carlos Cruz.

“It's like taking them out of there,” Cruz, 57, said referencing the apartment building, “and putting them under the bridge.”

Many asked in Spanish—was it discrimination because they were Latino? They didn’t know what to do or where to go.

Civic Towers had visible damage on the sides of the building where the walls had fallen off. Trees blocked several roads nearby the buildings. Though the entrances were blocked with plywood, windows into residents' apartments were not shuttered.

Vicari said at least one tower was without power, but the tower the residents lived in appeared to have power from a light at the entrance.

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By the end of the day, a few were able to find other places to stay, but many didn’t know what to do besides sit and wait to be let inside the building again. They planned to sleep at the entrance of the building.

The building will be inspected by city inspectors Tuesday and structural damage will be assessed by a private provider on Thursday, according to Maurice Pons, deputy director of the city’s building department.

Pons was unable to answer when residents would be able to return, or whether they could return at all if damage is assessed.

Redwood Housing Partners, which bought the buildings for $45 million in February, did not respond to an email on Monday.

Miami’s Housing of Urban Development office did not respond Monday for comment. A voicemail directed reporters to the Atlanta HUD office, which did not respond.

Civic Towers has been undergoing renovations for months in a saga played out between government officials, the general contractor Vicari, and Redwood Housing Partners. Delays and misrepresentations have left residents living in a construction zone.

But post-Hurricane Irma, it remains unclear where they will live next.

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