At least 80 residents of the Civic Towers, most of them elderly who suffer from serious ailments, have spent nine days sleeping in cars in the parking lot and on the street outside the twin buildings in Allapattah for Section 8 subsidized housing.
They suffered through heat and rain, with the few clothes they managed to gather up before they were ordered to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma. Their handful of other belongings they keep in supermarket carts or the trunks of their vehicles.
Many waited under umbrellas or a tarp provided by a neighbor until Monday, when the Lion's Club brought them several tents, chairs and a stretcher so that tenants like 79-year-old Sydia Arce, who suffers from arthritis and hernias, could rest after several nights of sleeping on a chair.
“This is terrible. This is inhuman,” said Arce, a Cuba native who has lived at Civic Towers for five years. “I don't have anyone. I live alone with God.”
Andres Vega, 65, who suffers from lung cancer and has been receiving chemotherapy, is also living outdoors. “It's incredible that this is happening to us,” he said.
The mother of two girls, ages 8 and 10, who did not want to give her name, said she was “desperate” after sleeping in the car with the girls. “I beg them to fix this. This is an abuse. I have not been able even to go up to get the girls' school uniforms and their medicines,” she said.
She and her neighbors said they are waiting for Redwood Housing Partners, the California-based company that bought the two buildings in February for $45 million and has been renovating them, to relocate them to hotels, like the company has done with other residents.
Their future, more than a week after they returned from shelters, remains uncertain because the J.E.M. inspection company determined last Wednesday that the two towers should not be occupied again until the renovation work is completed, which may take another eight months.
Redwood Housing issued a statement Tuesday night:
“We understand the plight of the residents who wish to return home, but until the City of Miami gives the order declaring the buildings are safe, residents are unable to re-occupy the buildings. We are further hamstrung in our efforts in that as of today the buildings have been ‘red-tagged’ and we cannot proceed with damage restoration without approval,” the statement said.
“After successfully evacuating the projects prior to Hurricane Irma, we have attempted to help residents into shelters with additional resources and sent numerous buses to transport them,” Redwood Housing stated. “Unfortunately, only a handful of residents chose to go to shelters, with many more choosing to stay in the parking lot and adjacent areas of the properties. We are in frequent contact with the government and are working diligently on a recovery plan.”
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson met in private Tuesday at the Civic Towers with contractor Peter Vicari and Gloria Shanahan, a spokesperson for the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD).
After the meeting, Regalado and Edmonson said that they had rejected a proposal by Vicari and Shanahan that would have the residents wait for federal assistance from FEMA — which would give them $1,200 for 10 days — and be relocated to shelters in Miami.
“The owners of these buildings have no heart. It's inhuman that they have been forced to wait here for nine days, with all this heat, and still no solution,” said Edmonson.
Regalado added that the city does not have a shelter that can host the 80 residents for eight months or more, and he urged the owners of Civic Towers and HUD to come up with a permanent solution as soon as possible.
“The owners are trying to lie to us,” said Regalado, who also urged Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to add some urgency to the problem from Washington.
The mayor also said that some of the residents had complained that renovation workers had removed the only portable toilet available in the parking lot in order to pressure the residents into moving to shelters. Vicari said the toilet was removed on orders from the city of Miami.
“That is not true,” said Regalado, adding that the city will bring in three portable bathrooms and assign a 24-hour police guard.