From the Caribbean to the U.S.: Hurricane Irma's destructive path
Many of the Miami housing project residents who have been sleeping in their cars for nearly two weeks outside of their damaged Hurricane Irma apartments will be moved off the street and into hotels, city officials said Wednesday.
The decision comes after more than a week of back-and-forth exchanges between the owners of the federally subsidized apartment complex, Civic Towers, and city leaders about what to do with the approximately 80 people who had been sleeping in their cars and beneath tarps at the complex parking lot after Irma. Many are older and require medications.
José Alvarez, who works for the Miami mayor’s office, arrived at the building at 1855 NW 15th Ave. Wednesday to deliver the news to the tenants: At least 50 will be sleeping in hotel rooms as of Wednesday night. The remaining tenants still in limbo will be relocated as soon as possible.
“I’m delighted,” said Gladys Pantoja, 71, who slept in the car with her husband for 10 nights. “When we go to the hotel, it’s going to feel like I’m in the Trump towers.”
Like Pantoja, many of the Civic Towers residents are seniors who suffer from various ailments including diabetes, arthritis and mental disorders.
The owner of Civic Towers, Redwood Housing, wrote a letter to the tenants Wednesday saying that those who have registered with FEMA and who have received a FEMA ID number are eligible for temporary housing. If a tenant has not yet registered with FEMA, the letter directed people to DisasterAssistance.gov or to call 800-621-3362.
Tenants evacuated their apartments ahead of Irma with some clothing and medicine. When they returned home last Monday, the day after Irma hit South Florida, they learned they could not move back into their homes. The city had deemed the towers, purchased by Redwood Housing Partners in February for $45 million and under reconstruction, were unsafe after the storm.
A report by the Miami Herald in August detailed how six months after construction began, tenants were living amid exposed wires, boarded-up windows, hallways seeped with rain and rats.
Alyn Fernandez, who works for Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, said authorities gave relocation priority to those who had slept outdoors the longest, as well as the sick, the elderly and parents with children.
“We won the battle. If we had not stayed ourselves out here, nothing would have happened,” said Leonor Gallardo, 67.
After the renovation of the towers began in February, about 130 tenants of the 340 were relocated to hotels, according to HUD. However, the others had to live amid the dust, odors, noise and dangling cables and wires.
The delay in the renovation project, which was financed by bonds issued through the county’s housing finance authority, stemmed, in part, from a conflict between the general contractor and an unnamed subcontractor. Additionally, a Herald review of city, county and state records found much of the delay was due to a Louisiana-based contractor who under-reported the scope of the project.
With the construction temporarily halted, the tenants have been worried that they may not be able to return to their apartments.
Redwood said in its letter to residents: “You have an absolute right to remain a resident upon completion of the renovation.”
Meanwhile, staffers from Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado’s office, Rubio’s office and the Red Cross have been bringing water and food to the tenants, along with community and religious groups.