Smashing the Slumlords in Liberty City

Adrian Madriz lives in a comfortable, clean, one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Little Havana. He’s got a full kitchen and a queen-sized bed that he shares with his husband.

He “can’t really complain,” about anything, Madriz says.

Just five miles away, Gigi Town lives a different reality.

For eight years, she lived in an apartment building in Liberty City where cockroaches and rats squatted in her home. Once, while she was cooking a meal during the holidays, her kitchen sink fell in. Then the one in her bathroom fell in, too.

“I had to call someone to come and fix it and it took forever,” she said.

She covered it with a plastic bag for several weeks until the landlord finally sent someone. It was repaired, but the rats and roaches stuck around.

Last year, Town moved out of that building and into an efficiency a few blocks away. She doesn’t have a full kitchen. She uses a hot plate for most things. But at least when she asks her landlord to fix something, he fixes it.

Madriz and Town are friends and colleagues. They work together at Smash the Slumlords, a nonprofit that works to combat gentrification and delinquent landlords. They’re focusing on figuring out why it’s profitable for landlords, which they call slumlords, to neglect care for their buildings and tenants. They’re also hoping to change policies to prevent this from happening in the future.

“I go to sleep every night thinking about this. I get to sleep in a clean, queen-sized bed with my husband and the people I care about most in Liberty City and Overtown go to a bed full of roaches with rats for neighbors, and mold and mildew contaminating everything … in situations I wouldn’t live in for five minutes,” Madriz said.

Last year working at the Miami Workers Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for fair wages, affordable housing, and immigrant rights, Madriz felt like he needed to do more about the slum-like conditions his friends were living in.

In February 2016, he branched off and created Smash the Slumlords.

At the time, Town was working in her old landlord’s rent office. She’d often see Madriz talking with tenants and helping them access resources to improve their living situations.

Because she was working in the building at the time, Town would often argue with Madriz and tell him to leave. But then when she was laid off and moved out — she started showing up to Smash meetings, too.

Now, she’s the secretary of the board.

In addition to monthly community meetings and monthly board meetings, Smash the Slumlords also hosts seminars to help organize community members to advocate for themselves. They’re hosting one this Saturday in Liberty City.

It’s a day-long workshop about Community Land Trusts.

“This is a vehicle of land ownership,” Madriz explained. “It’s land that is collectively owned that will work specifically for residents of slum and blight.”

How Community Land Trusts work, from a piece we wrote in May:

“A nonprofit entity buys or acquires land. It builds homes on it. It sells those homes to people who qualify for low-income housing at an affordable cost.

When it works, units stay affordable pretty much forever because they can only be sold to other low-income qualifying home buyers at a rate set before the property values start spiraling. Rates of gentrification slow because residents have a place they can afford long-term. Struggling neighborhoods stabilize because they have residents with a sense of ownership that prompts them to invest in the community.”

How you can get involved:

Smash the Slumlords is inviting residents of Liberty City to learn about how a Community Land Trust works and if it can help them have ownership of their neighborhoods.

Organizations that specialize in building affordable housing, Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing (also known as Smash the Slumlords), the Miami Workers Center, Miami Homes for All, and South Florida Community Land Trust, will be present to provide their expertise.

When is it happening:

Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where is it happening:

Miami Workers Center, 745 NW 54th St, Miami, FL 33127