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Low-income elderly residents are facing eviction and relocation in Miami

George Humphrey Towers Evictions
Daniel Rivero
/
WLRN
Residents gathered at a meeting for the George Humphrey Towers in 2018, in an effort to fight against potential eviction.

Hundreds of elderly residents could soon be pushed out of an affordable housing building in Miami's Brickell neighborhood. Many will be relocated to another development, but not all are happy.

In 2018, hundreds of residents of the George Humphrey Towers building in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood were organizing to fight potential eviction. A few years earlier, the property was sold and plans were being drawn up to build a luxury apartment building on the site.

“We are going to pursue every legal right we have with [the Department of Housing and Urban Development], and every other legal means we can find, to protect our rights and preserve our home,” tenant association president Sherman Rattner told residents at a meeting at the time.

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But now, the prospect of hundreds of the low-income elderly residents having to leave the property is crystalizing.

The real estate website The Real Deal reports that the luxury development is moving forward, with units setdd to start at $2 million.

The potential valuation of the whole new project could be as high as $2 billion, The Real Deal reported.

The waterfront property was originally built in 1966 to help house elderly and retired teachers, and was built with federal dollars. The money came with strings attached: the property had to be maintained as affordable housing for decades. United Teachers of Dade, the teachers’ union that owned the building, sold the property in 2014 for $14 million, which at the time was considered well under market value.

In 2019, those affordable housing conditions expired, freeing the new owners to potentially demolish the building and displace residents from the waterfront property, which had become prime real estate for luxury real estate.

The federal government still had to give the thumbs-up for the project. In 2019, HUD did just that. After sending an inspector to look at the building, the federal government determined that “the age and existing conditions requiring substantial rehabilitation may soon deem the property physically obsolete.” HUD added that nearly $11 million in maintenance was required for the building, and that an additional $9 million in additional repairs were needed, “due to major systems that are nearing or at the end of their useful life.”

At the same time, Melo agreed to relocate all of the residents to a new affordable housing development he was building in the Allapattah neighborhood. A subsequent “use agreement” with HUD stipulated that the property owner should continue honoring the affordable housing provisions for 20 more years, until 2039.

But some residents are not happy with the seemingly contradictory agreements and the fact that they will likely be displaced. A federal lawsuit was filed against the federal government and developers in September, alleging that the terms of the use agreement have been broken, and that moving to Allapattah would be “seriously detrimental” to the elderly residents.

“Census data indicates seven years of reduced life expectancy; shows 50% increase in crime; increased exposure to pollutants — the building site had to undergo remediation — and increased risk of COVID 19 infection and death,” the plaintiffs argue in a Dec. 27 filing.

Sherman Rattner, the president of the tenants' association, is the only named plaintiff and he is representing himself in the lawsuit.

At the same time, nearly all of the residents have accepted the relocation deal. According to a court filing made by developers in the ongoing lawsuit, tenants in 94% of the 204 occupied units in the building have agreed to be relocated. Those who have not agreed to move to Allapattah have the option of receiving federal subsidies for housing at other properties, they wrote.

“While we do not have a legal responsibility to relocate the residents, we are human and we are compassionate, which is why we are working to find a reasonable solution and continue to collaborate closely with HUD and local officials to identify alternative housing options for the residents," developer Melo told WLRN in 2018.

He added that he was working to “obtain financing for the construction of new affordable housing options” with which to help the residents of the building.

Even with the ongoing lawsuit and conflict, it appears that residents of 1809 Brickell have been shielded from the worst possible outcome, which would be the loss of their current homes and no readily available option for affordable housing.

South Florida is one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the nation. Apartment rents jumped 36 percent over the last year in the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with the cities now making up the top three list for sharpest rent increases seen anywhere in the nation.

The prospect of affordable housing restrictions on existing properties timing out could only make the crisis more acute in the years to come. Thousands of older units with affordable housing restrictions are scheduled to lose those restrictions in the coming years.

“This building, 1809 Brickell, is the prime example, if not the example of why we should be preserving affordable housing,” Evian White de Leon, the then-program and policy director of Miami Homes for All, told WLRN three years ago. “This is only exacerbating it. [George Humphrey Tower] is the prime example of why we need to preserve affordable housing.”