Change is shoring up to Miami but it’s disguising itself as flourishing development whilst doing it at the expense of the minorities who’ve built the city. This change has rippled through several metropolitan hubs but has never sailed to the south. This is gentrification– and it’s leaving a bitter taste in Miami’s mouth.
Condos have replaced houses. Porsches have replaced Hondas. And wealthy people will replace the minorities who’ve birthed Miami.
According to the financial 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, unemployment rate, and employment as defining factors. In Miami, “a high population of wealthy foreigners, the presence of numerous international financial institutions, and the busiest cruise ship port in the world” give the city a high price tag.
It costs $77,000 to live comfortably in Miami. By living ‘comfortably’, it insinuates that you should be able to afford basic lifestyle amenities while funding long-term needs without stress. This is essentially financial independence, the most basic meaning to a comfortable lifestyle. However, most people don’t have the means nor the salary to achieve financial independence. In 2017, the average median income reported was $46,000. The median salary comes from the average Miami resident who works in office management, marketing, teaching, human resources, and beyond.
The presence of international wealth in Miami is also reducing the average income. Of the top 25 metro areas, Miami has the second-lowest median household income. People living in poverty account for 16.7 percent of the population. There is an almost $30,000 gap between the average person and a comfortable salary, and that gap will continue widening if gentrification ensues.
In December of last year, 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— $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 all leaves some homeowners, like Richards, potentially without a home.
According to the Herald, Richards, the 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 said.
Richards was struggling to pay her mortgage after being diagnosed with cancer and having insufficient insurance. This led to her having crippling medical debt and a foreclosed home. She attributes a scarcity of affordable housing and rising sea levels to falling victim to 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 are desirable. Gentrification reduces crime, provides new investment, and increases economic activity in neighborhoods. However, this process is only to be enjoyed by the new arrivals, thus marginalizing the established residents.
As their costs of living continue to rise, the benefits continue decreasing. Small businesses will disappear, homes will be sold and the quality of public school education will worsen. 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 like Liberty City and Little Haiti were primarily set in place by racist “redlining” mortgage lending practices, segregation, and other oppressive social policies. Redlined neighborhoods were described as “Close to 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. This is 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?”