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The South Florida Roundup

Rental relief in Hialeah, projected increase in sea levels, and illegal tourist cruises to Cuba

Pedro Portal
Miami Herald

Hialeah may be a blueprint for a solution to the rental crises, sea rise increase set to accelerate in 30 years, and evidence has been found showing tourist cruises to Cuba may have been illegal.

Hialeah is the latest city government in South Florida to offer rental assistance to those in need. Mayor Esteban Bovo Jr. announced the effort this week while also calling for efforts to build more homes and apartments. This program will run from now until September.

The rent relief comes after a tumultuous month for some residents. WLRN’s Danny Rivero reported that a 20-unit property in the city was bought out last month, and some residents saw their rent go up 65%.

Hialeah councilman Jesus Tundidor said that the funds they are using to offer assistance come from some of the COVID funds they’ve received in the past year.

For those looking into the program, the city needs to see proof of immigration status, permanent residency or citizenship. The income of applicants needs to be below 80% of the median income.

Applicants also need to show proof of a lease agreement or documentation from the landlord, and lastly applicants need to be Hialeah residents.

There is currently no limit to the amount of financial assistance one can qualify for.

“There is only a three-month limit, and you can re-apply if you need an extension,” Tundidor said.

They are using these funds until they run out or until September, whichever happens first. The subsidy could also be equal to 100% of the applicant’s current rent.

Tundidor said that the majority of Hialeah residents are blue-collar workers from an older generation and live on a fixed income.

“We know that any type of change in their individual budgets and any unexpected costs can impact their lives significantly,” Tundidor said.

Rivero said residents in the complex who saw their rent skyrocket are relieved and thankful to see this aid, but they are worried for the future since this problem isn't going anywhere right away.

Tundidor emphasized that rent control is not supported, and they believe that the government should act as a safety net for emergency situations. However, the government can’t be there permanently.

Part of the city’s comprehensive plan to balance the rent situation is to encourage developers to build in certain areas and increase the density around mass transit. The ideal is that building around mass transit reduces dependency on vehicles and will hopefully balance out prices.

For those seeking help or know someone in Hialeah who needs help with their rent, go here or call (305) 863-2970.

Accelerated sea rise in the next 30 years

The seas are rising … and rising faster than they have been.

A new report this week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA says sea levels will rise as much over the next 30 years as they did over the past 100 years.

The report specifically states that sea level along the U.S. coastline is projected to rise, on average, 10-12 inches in this 30-year time period, with the East Coast predicted to see 10-14 inches during this time.

That means problems like saltwater intrusion threatening South Florida’s drinking water supplies and flooding from hurricane storm surges will also grow worse.

Dr. Tiffany Troxler, the Director of Science, Sea Level Solutions Center at FIU, said this report shows South Florida has been heading in the right direction.

“Working and preparing for sea level rise as the South Florida region has been doing for at least 10 years or more demonstrates that is an important effort that will need to continue,” she said.

Going forward, Dr. Nancy Gassman, the Assistant Public Works Director in the Sustainability Division for Fort Lauderdale said people should definitely keep the elevation of their homes and locations in mind.

She also said when it comes to the city, Fort Lauderdale’s infrastructure planning has been taking sea level rise and its accelerated growth into consideration when planning their major infrastructure master plans.

“Most of the infrastructure that we build on a given timeframe is for essentially the next 50 years, so we’re looking at the projected conditions 50 years out to make sure that that infrastructure can provide a useful public benefit for its expected lifecycle.”

When it comes to mitigating the damage from sea rise, South Florida’s natural defenses from wetlands help reduce the impact caused by sea level rise. Rehabilitation of these natural spaces can help redirect flooding off the streets.

Fort Lauderdale has been including natural options in their planning and construction moving forward. They recently opened the River Oaks Stormwater preserve, which is an area of wetlands that has been rehabilitated and will help reduce flooding in the Edgewood and River Oaks neighborhoods.

Illegal tourist cruises to Cuba

When President Obama opened relations and relaxed travel restrictions with Cuba, various services were allowed, including carrier services. These services include having flights or cruises to Cuba.

However, tourism was never allowed. People-to-people visits, religious trips, educational tours and similar excursions were allowed, but not tourism.

Nora Gámez Torres, of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, said that alongside these trips, Americans were allowed to come and help Cuba through engagements with entrepreneurs, musicians, scientists and other broad groups.

However, new documents in a court case have revealed American cruise ship operators and their relationship with the Cuban government actually did facilitate tourism.

An American company, Havana Docks, filed a lawsuit which claims four major cruise lines were illegally using its three piers at the port of Havana that were wrongfully confiscated by the Fidel Castro government in 1960.

These documents have shown these cruise lines made deals with Cuban Ministry of Tourism agencies to provide “tourist services” to their passengers, despite the U.S embargo’s ban on tourism to the island.

These cruise lines were Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC Cruises.

Each cruise line made over $100 million, and the Cuban government made $54 million just in “tourist” visa fees. Nothing else in the court case shows any money went back to the Cuban people.

Torres said this case is interesting because all the cruise lines claim that they traveled to and did business in Cuba legally, as they were following the exceptions made in the Helms-Burton Act.

The Helms-Burton Act allows individuals to sue those who use their property that has been confiscated by the Castro government. There is an exception in this act that prevents lawsuits for the use of confiscated property if the use is “necessary” to “lawful travel.”

“All this evidence pointing to tourism kind of weakens their defense in court,” Torres said.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Host.