Residents of evacuated Miami-Dade condo return home relieved, but wary
In early October, an electrical explosion in a condo building near North Miami Beach forced hundreds of residents to evacuate and thrust them into one of the nation's most unaffordable housing markets.
Among the Wilshire condominium residents temporarily driven out of their home was Andres Quinones, who had been living in the building on Miami Gardens Drive since 2021.
He told WLRN that he spent the equivalent of two months’ rent for just five weeks of temporary housing with stays at a nearby hotel and an Airbnb, and a friend’s home, following the Oct. 10 blast. He said weeks of financial stress and anxiety disappeared when he learned earlier this month that he could return to his condo rental.
"I was jumping up and down [when I got the email], literally. I am ecstatic," Quinones said. "Now I need to find out what my landlord is actually going to do now that everything's been said and done. Hopefully he will let me deduct the hotel and Airbnb from the rent like he originally agreed to, but I don't think either of us thought it was going to be five weeks."
In South Florida — Miami, in particular — the housing affordability crisis is well documented for anyone looking for a place to live. But when residents are temporarily forced from their homes, even for only a few weeks or months, the fallout can be equally devastating to manage both emotionally and financially.
Housing rental numbers and the high cost of living paint a grim picture in Miami. It is one of the most rent-burdened metro areas in the country. Rents increased faster in Miami than the U.S. average, according to Bloomberg. And Miami’s inflation ranked highest in the nation in the past year, according to October data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At the Wilshire building, condos are owned by different people, so rents vary depending on the landlord. Some one-bedroom apartments, like Quinones', go for around $1,600 a month.
A two-bedroomin the Wilshire building was listed for $2,250 per month over the summer, according to Zillow. The rental price was far below the median two-bedroom rental in Miami, which is $3,450 per month.
After the Wilshire residents were evacuated and contacted by the American Red Cross, Miami-Dade County homeless assistance nonprofit Camillus Housereached out to renters from the building.
The two non-profit agencies are among the few resources available to help those seek assistance in finding and financing temporary shelter.
Katherine Martinez, senior vice president for programs for Camillus House, says the nonprofit offers shelter and housing assistance to renters from any building that gets closed in an emergency.
After the collapse of the Champlain Towers condo in Surfside in 2021, said Martinez, Camillus House responded to a number of building closures to offer help.
In the case of the Wilshire condo, no one took Camillus House up on the offer for temporary housing. Martinez believes condo residents were hoping to stay in the same building because of the high cost of finding an alternative place to live.
"The rent seems to be fairly affordable, so I can understand them not wanting to leave. Because if you want to live there and go rent somewhere else, with the market rent so high right now, they wouldn't be able to afford it," Martinez told WLRN.
Wilshire residents received an email from building management telling them they could fully return to their units on November 16 — more than a month after the Oct. 10 explosion.
In the five intervening weeks, power was out in the building and elevators were not functional, as an electrical explosion on the second floor took out one of the building's main power units. A wall to the condo's electrical room was also damaged in the explosion, and a new fire-resistant wall had to be installed, according to permitting records reviewed by WLRN.
A Wilshire Condominium manager named Luis declined to give his last name when contacted by WLRN. He said in a telephone interview that while residents are back for now, they may have to leave again in a year or so, because the building’s entire electrical system needs to be replaced.
The risk of needing to leave again has some residents, including Quinones, anxious and already looking elsewhere for housing.
"Just the cost of moving would be substantial,” said Quinones. “It's not something that I really want to have to go through at this point again.”