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Town Hall At Vizcaya Focuses On Climate Gentrification In South Florida

Extreme storms and sea level rise are leading real estate investors to look at communities with higher elevation, like Little Haiti, causing a wave of new development that threatens current residents in those areas.

"People do want a better life, but people do want to stay in their communities. When we see the road works being done, we see the new buildings popping up, we see the old buildings being knocked down, we know that these new buildings are not for us," said Valencia Gunder, a community organizer, during Monday's panel on the intersections of climate change and gentrification at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

The panel marked the second stop for the 5,000 miles cross country "Freedom to Breathe" bus tour that began in Atlanta and is capturing stories of resilience and climate-related injustices. Stories collected will be presented at their last stop, the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, on September 12.

"I have to remind myself constantly of what that journey was for me to understand what it [climate gentrification] meant," said City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russel. "Most people are still wrapping their heads around the physical water rising, much less grasping the intangibles of how the potential of that water rising has a now effect of a community of need." 

Miami is third in the country for the largest proportion of renters versus homeowners, according to a study released this year by RentCafe.com, a national apartment website. Their data shows that 68 percent of residents in the city are renters.  This and other factors such as language barriers, immigration status and lack of access to resources make the people of these communities vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

The mental health of the people being displaced in these communities was another issue discussed during the panel. 

"PTSD is something I am seeing in our community," said Gunder. "People are being afraid because they are starting to see the effects from health issues that we're seeing from climate change. I know that when you're dealing with things that you don't know that have a proper solution in place you start to worry and stress about things."

Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
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