Fort Lauderdale's Sistrunk Is Booming. Does That Mean Longtime Residents Will Be Priced Out?
Where it used to be quiet for the past 15 years or so along Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Boulevard - there’s now a surge of building projects.
Sistrunk Boulevard runs east and west, right through a historically black neighborhood. Millions of dollars worth of development projects have been approved to pop up in the next couple of years there.
But that doesn’t make longtime Sistrunk resident Ruby Bogins nervous. She thinks change could be good.
“It means a great future to me in this community,” she said. “What I want in the community, that people could see that change is good for them, and not nothing bad.”
At 69, she’s lived in Sistrunk for more than 10 years. Her neighbors simply call her ‘Miss Ruby.’
Now she's set to watch as new buildings start to pop up in her neighborhood.
“A lot of people think change is bad ... because they're set in their own ways,” Miss Ruby said.
The value of land in downtown Fort Lauderdale and Flagler Village is only growing, pushing more development west toward Sistrunk.
The list of already approved projects for the area is substantial. There’s a $42 million mixed-use tower with apartments, and retail. More shopping centers, senior living facilities, a performing arts center, blues club, new YMCA and at least three office towers.
But Miss Ruby said she remains optimistic that this will be for the better. But if things do get too expensive, she says she would get another job.
“If it’s in my price range, I will live here,” Miss Ruby insists. “You know what I’m saying? And if it’s not, I’ll make sure I live here, if I have to do a little more to live here.”
To compare rents, the affordable housing community called Northwest Gardens, where Miss Ruby lives, charges about $790 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
The new mixed-use tower apartment that’s set to go up will charge an estimated$1,100 per month for a one-bedroom.
Miss Ruby lives on Social Security and by working part -time at the nearby YMCA, where she’s also taking classes to get a job in community health.
"She has a unique expertise that none of us could train her on, and that’s her knowledge and history of the neighborhood,” Scott Strawbridge said.
Strawbridge is the director of Development and Facilities for the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Housing Authority. He is responsible for overseeing all public and affordable housing projects in the city. He said he wants to ensure the new developers look to Sistrunk residents when they’re ready to hire.
“Largely they’re working people that are stigmatized and so gentrification comes with social stigma in terms of haves or have nots,” Strawbridge said.
Chad Cherry lives just outside of Sistrunk, but he runs his business there. He’s one of the people who fear the new development will leave them behind.
“When people think about gentrification, one of the human elements they miss is that people don't always have choices,” he said. “There's not family members you can borrow from. There's not banks where you can get a loan from.”
Cherry started a healthy mobile catering business with his wife, Karen Pandy-Cherry and brought it to Sistrunk five years ago. Now they call it Chef Culture, but they also run a foundation called Refresh Live.
Karen said, while they trying to get their business off the ground, the restaurant’s rent kept rising. They chose to keeping paying that instead of rent where they lived. They ended up homeless and living in the family car.
“So the first time we were homeless — that experience — I mean, there was so much with that experience. It was like a whirlwind,” she said.
But Chad believes, if new businesses that come into the neighborhood hire people already rooted here, like his family and Miss Ruby, it could become a gentrification model.
“I feel like Sistrunk is a microcosm for the rest of the country,” he said. I feel like we're on the verge of creating solutions that are sustainable and can be transplanted everywhere.”