Little Haiti is headed for some big changes.
That’s in part due to two major projects in the works: the Magic City Innovation District and the redesign of the two story Design Place apartments into a massive complex with almost 3,000 apartment units, shops, and restaurants.
It’s not the first time Miami has gone through this. Wynwood’s transition from Little Puerto Rico to the arts district almost no one can afford to live in is legend at this point.
This week the developer of Design Place, SPV Realty, and community members got together to talk about what that change will look like.
But Little Haiti residents and supporters are adamant it’s going to go down differently for them. Monday night was one of those rare unscripted conversations between developers and community members where everyone was actually heard. Maybe progress was even made.
Here’s what they all had to say.
SPV Realty is behind the massive redesign of the Design Place apartment complex located at 5045 N.E. 2nd Ave. Their plan is to transform the 68-year-old, 515-unit apartment complex into one with buildings ranging anywhere from eight to 28 stories, and almost 3,000 units.
SPV Realty representative Edward Martos says there are lots of potential community benefits for Little Haiti. That’s required by law.
TBD what those benefits will be, but it will almost certainly include some percentage of permanent jobs reserved for the community.
When community members argued that they wish they had more notice about the project before it got this far, SPV Realty said fair, but they’re also not required to do that by law.
Martos said they are providing notice, but also argued that it’s also important for the community to demand that of the City of Miami.
“Some governments require charrettes (community conversations) for big projects … this is necessary because we could have a fight at City Hall or a dialogue right now and smooth things over up front,” Martos said.
“It would save a lot of legal fees to have the fight up front as opposed to deep in the project.”
The Community Activists
Meet Joann Milord, executive director of the NE 2nd Avenue Partnership, a nonprofit that advocates for community groups and businesses in Little Haiti, and Valencia Gunder, a community activist in Liberty City.
Joann Milord said that every neighborhood “has its flare.” The colorful houses, the lush trees, and cultural institutions are “what makes Little Haiti, Little Haiti,” and she advised SVP to “capitalize on that, rather than erase it.”
“Support current businesses. Instead of fighting gentrification, let’s make it more of a way to think of integration between the two neighborhoods,” she said.
Valencia Gunder added that the City of Miami should use more of its community redevelopment funding for protecting communities on the brink of a boom. In Wynwood the Puerto Rican community is gone and Overtown is changing fast, she points out. This could be a different narrative.
“It’s not just about how much money you make but also about history,” she said.
On including the locals
“In this project there’s a park that’s deemed a community benefit, but with the community we’re dealing with, the least of their concerns is a park,” Milord said.
She added that SVP should look into catering more of the community benefits to this specific community.
“If negotiated right, a developer can have great conversations with the community — get jobs, affordable housing, an affordable space, job training in green tech economy, environmental benefits. It’s about pulling those things out of the community and seeing how they benefit,” Gunder added.
“Little Haiti can flip economically, especially if we anchor the Haitian community. [They] can win, but we have to be strategic and honest with one another and the developers moving forward.”
If SVP offers permanent jobs, for example, residents can be long term stakeholders in the project, she suggested.
But Gunder said it’s also on the onus of the community to “get their benefits package.” She said she plans to canvas to make sure that happens.
Gunder also said that the culture, food, music, and art are what makes the neighborhood. The developers should consider hosting cultural events, translating documents in Creole to permeate the language barrier, and make sure people can understand and be part of that.
The Property Owner
Local property owner Bob Powers moved into this neighborhood 20 years ago because he says he “knew it was going to change,” and to him, “it’s been a nice change.”
Powers said currently the area isn’t very “attractive” and he hopes the city takes better care of the neighborhood moving forward by doing things like cleaning up the sidewalks.
He also argued that only people who own property have a real say in the direction the neighborhood is headed in.
“When you talk about a neighborhood, you buy into that neighborhood. When you talk about the rent going up — why did they sell their property? If they wanted to sell their property, they did it because they wanted … to make money.”
But audience members argued that viewpoint was too narrow – many people in the community can’t afford to buy their properties. That’s why they rent. And when the rent goes up, they can no longer afford to stay in the community they call home.
“Renting is poverty, ownership is wealth,” one audience member said.
Gunder and Milord’s overall point was that if developers invest in communities by providing jobs and other community benefits, perhaps current residents and business owners would be able to afford to stay despite rapidly rising prices.
Do you want to join the conversation? The project is going to a vote on Wed. Jan. 18 at 2 p.m. at City Hall. Community members are encouraged to attend.