A few weeks ago, a man named Robert reached out to me after I wrote my first piece on the rent crisis in Miami. He said the story had touched a nerve and confided his particular story. It’s just one of many from current and former Miamians affected by the prohibitive cost of rents in the city.
Robert was destined to live in Miami. Although he was born here, his birth mother drove to Jacksonville and dropped him off at a children’s home because he was an unwanted baby.
Remarkably, he was brought back to this city by his stepfather, who ensured his safe return. Not even being carted off hundreds of miles away from home by a mother who wouldn’t keep him could keep him away.
For almost his whole life, Robert lived here, spending most of his career working for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Highway Patrol. He led a quiet life, making a modest income, eventually marrying his wife Arletty, a Nicaraguan woman who was living paycheck to paycheck working as a waitress at a Cuban restaurant.
In 2007, Robert moved to Port St. Lucie, which is roughly two hours north of Miami by car, to take care of a sick uncle who had recently moved there. The uncle recently passed away, and Robert wanted to return to the city where he knows he belongs. Unfortunately, that’s proven more difficult than he ever anticipated, as rent prices have gone up steeply since he left.
Finding a comparable home to own was out of the question. Currently, Robert lives in a 2,600-square-foot home with two bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quarter-acre lot in Port St. Lucie. He bought it for $165,000 in 2013. A friend of his who works in real estate says a similar home in Miami-Dade or Broward would cost $375,000 to $425,000.
He was willing to downsize, so he began looking for smaller apartments in his desired neighborhoods of Aventura and Miami Gardens. But even when cutting way back from what he lives in now, the rents are still prohibitively expensive.
Right now, Robert pays $1,100 for his home, which includes the mortgage plus taxes and insurance. Although he was paying roughly that amount for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom place in North Miami back in 2007, finding anything that approaches that price now has been an uphill battle.
He has spent months searching in vain for an apartment that would meet his needs, but he says that what he would pay toward rent for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Miami Lakes or Aventura would be $650 to $850 more than what he currently pays.
He says he isn’t the only one in this community experiencing these problems. He has noticed a trickle of new residents who have moved to St. Lucie County after being pushed out of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties due to high rents. Nearly all of them wanted to stay, but none of them could justify the outrageous cost of housing any longer.
High rents in Miami are also affecting his wife Arletty’s family, who still live here. Her family comes from a working-class background and the high rents have forced several family members to move in together to prevent their housing costs from eating more and more of their paychecks.
Not being able to move back to Miami has taken an emotional toll on Robert. He says not living in Miami has left with him with a corazón roto, a broken heart. He misses the big things like being part of a diverse community, and the small things like the pastelitos you find at Cuban bakeries dotting the city. He continues to read the Herald to help him stay close to what is going on in his old community.
I ask Robert what he intends to do now that his dream of moving back looks like it will remain just that, a dream. He says that he’s a fighter at heart, in part because he’s practiced martial arts all of his life.
He says that he will work tirelessly to find a home he can afford in this community for as long as he can, because he knows it is what he desires most, and he could not live with himself if he couldn’t do everything possible to move back here.
But he also realizes, as he continues his search, that the prospects of moving back are growing dimmer.
“I just don’t want to lay the gloves down, but it looks like I’m being defeated.”