Homelessness and heartache: Parents share housing struggles with Mayor Levine Cava
Miami is the least affordable place to live in the country, according to several market analyses. Tenants and advocates say the dramatic increase in the cost of housing is forcing many families out of their homes and trapping others in conditions that are unsafe, unsanitary and unsustainable.
At an event hosted by United Way Miami on Tuesday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava heard directly from parents and social service providers about how the housing crisis is affecting them.
Sitting in an upstairs conference room at the United Way’s Center for Excellence in Early Education on SW Third Avenue, Levine Cava listened as mothers shared their stories of struggle.
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Shaqula Parks says she and her 8-year-old son lost their home in Liberty City because they couldn’t afford the rent hikes.
Since then, Parks says they’ve been homeless — bouncing between hotels and the homes of family members.
“Now I am with my sister, but it’s a temporary situation,” Parks said. “So I haven’t been able to secure my own housing as of yet. And it’s been — this month actually makes two years! Two years…”
Lakisha Thomas says she and her family can afford their current home but she says they don’t feel safe there.
“We’ve had three different incidents of gun violence, right? And one incident was 64 gun shots,” Thomas said. “I have three children. We would like to move but there’s no place to move that’s affordable.”
Thomas says if her family of five moved to an area where they would feel safer, they’d only be able to afford a one bedroom.
“Now you’re in a situation where you have to choose. Do I downsize and go somewhere where my family can’t fit, a family of five, or do you stay somewhere and risk your life?”Lakisha Thomas
Janina Rodriguez is a social worker for United Way Miami. She’s heard many stories like these. Tenants whose landlord won’t fix their bathroom, forcing them to use the restroom at a Publix down the street. A mother who has to send her children to live with their grandmother because she can’t afford the rent. A family living out of their car.
“That’s the big, most frequent situation I’m having now: undocumented immigrants that can’t afford … anything — to live here — but they can’t leave either,” Rodriguez said. “They’re hanging on a thread.”
Levine Cava said her administration is working to bring more affordable housing units on the market and to provide aid to both tenants and landlords. In April, she signed an executive directive declaring a housing affordability crisis in the county.
“Housing is the number one issue right now in Miami-Dade County. We are clearly in an affordability crisis. The cost of housing has gone up, making us the least affordable place in the country,” Levine Cava said. “So you’re not alone in this struggle.”
Levine Cava said about 14,000 new affordable units should be completed by 2023 and the county aims to have another 18,000 in the pipeline, though she acknowledges that’s not enough.
Levine Cava said the county commission will also be looking at ways to allow more dense development within the core of the county.
“We are underutilizing the land right now. We’ve mapped it out. There’s ample opportunity to contribute about 100,000 additional units within the urban infill area,” she said.
“That is going to have to be the way of the future. We are going to have to build up.”Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County Mayor
In May, the county commission passed the Tenants Bill of Rights, which extends protections to tenants who are withholding rent to pay for neglected repairs and prohibits landlords from asking about past evictions on rental applications.
But Levine Cava’s administration is limited by state law, which prevents municipalities from initiating rent controls unless a housing emergency is declared. Even then, the rent caps must be approved by local voters and the limits can only be in place for one year.
Local politics and area residents continue to block efforts at increasing the density of housing development, which could help get more affordable units on the market. Even in the neighborhood where United Way Miami is located, yard signs are cropping up opposing new development around the nearby Vizcaya Metrorail stop.
Efforts by city officials to allow residents to build accessory dwelling units in their backyards — often called granny flats, mother-in-law suites or efficiencies — have also been blocked.
In the meantime, the county is offering funding for renters and owners to cover rent and fund repairs. Tenants and landlords can get information and assistance by calling the county’s Housing Advocacy Hotline at 786-469-4545.
Levine Cava acknowledged that the increased cost of living is hitting property owners as well as tenants, which she said is partially driving the rent increases. But she’s making a moral argument too — urging landlords to simply not be greedy.
“We live in a country and an economy where demand does drive price. And we’re simply saying, try to keep it down within reasonable limits,” Levine Cava said. “Yes it’s true that there’s competition for that housing, but if we drive out the people who have lived here and worked here and contributed to our economy, we will not survive.”