Change is all around Miami, but the developments are coming at the expense of the minorities who’ve built the city. This phenomenon is called gentrification, and it’s leaving a bitter taste in mouths of many Miami natives.
Condos have replaced houses. Porsches have replaced Hondas. And wealthy people will replace the minorities who’ve birthed Miami.
According to finance education site Investopedia, Miami is the only southern U.S. city ranking on the top 10 most expensive cities to live in. The report highlights real estate and unemployment rate as defining factors.
It costs $77,000 to live comfortably in Miami. The term living “comfortably” insinuates that you should be able to afford basic lifestyle amenities while funding long-term needs without stress. In other words, a comfortable life is characterized by financial stability.
However, most people don’t have the means nor the salary to achieve financial independence. In 2017, the average median income in Miami was $46,000. The average Miami resident works in office management, marketing, teaching or human resources. Most people here are not millionaires.
Of the top 25 metropolitan areas, Miami has the second-lowest median household income. People living in poverty account for 16.7 percent of the population. There is almost a $30,000 gap between the average person’s salary and a what an individual needs to make in order to live a “comfortable” life.
That gap will continue to widen if gentrification continues.
In December 2018, the Miami Herald interviewed Paulette Richards, a decades-long resident of Liberty City, one of Miami’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. The average household income in Liberty City is $33,000, a full $44,000 less than Miami’s comfortable living salary. The neighborhood’s violent crime rate is one of the highest in Florida, and now, investors and city officials are pretending that the only way to reduce the crime rate is to increase the number of wealthy residents. This leaves homeowners like Richards potentially without a home.
According to the Herald, Richards, a 58-year-old great-grandmother, was startled to find two realtors at her door.
“Someone filed foreclosure on your property today, and we’re here to see if you’re interested in selling,” the realtors told her.
Richards was struggling to pay her mortgage after being diagnosed with cancer and having insufficient insurance. This led to crippling medical debt and a foreclosed home. Richards attributes a scarcity of affordable housing and rising sea levels to Miami’s rampant gentrification.
“We’re what you call ‘prime real estate,’” Richards said. “We’re on high ground.”
Like Richards, several inner Miami residents have been receiving requests from prospective buyers, sellers and developers for their Miami homes. Miami’s two existential problems— climate change and the shortage of affordable housing— are intersecting with low-income communities of color.
Admittedly, many aspects of the gentrification process sound appealing. Gentrification reduces crime, provides new investment opportunities and increases economic activity in neighborhoods. However, this process is only enjoyed by the new arrivals, and therefore marginalizes the established residents.
As costs of living continue to rise, the benefits of staying in gentrified neighborhoods continues to decrease for many long-term residents. Small businesses disappear, homes are be sold and the quality of public school education sometimes worsens. It also doesn’t help that when higher income families move into lower-income neighborhoods, they normally refuse to integrate themselves into the community that they forced themselves upon.
What the city fails to forget is its history. Historically black and minority communities such as Liberty City and Little Haiti were primarily set in place by racist “redlining” mortgage lending practices. Redlined neighborhoods were described as “close to a dump and Negro” areas by local assessors. White neighborhoods often tried to protect their property by adding restrictive clauses to their home sales that prevented black families from purchasing property. As a result of this racist technique, the rise of African-Americans renting homes rather than purchasing them increased at exorbitant rates. Over the years, the neighborhoods that minorities were allowed to live in have now become vulnerable and susceptible to high crime rates.
That’s why gentrification mimics racist history.
While several residents are considering a permanent exodus from Miami, others are refusing to succumb to gentrification. They are calling for better policies to benefit the present residents rather than kicking them out and replacing them.
“I didn’t buy a house for investment. I bought this to live in, to die in,” said Richards. “It’s my legacy, my home, my worth. Without that what else do I have?”
Daniela Perez is a junior majoring in journalism and political science.