There is no doubt that concerns over sea level rise are propelling a westward shift in new development in Miami-Dade County. When we’re told that seashore properties will be subjected to an additional couple of feet of sea level, it is logical that inland properties will become more desirable. It’s a simple matter of math: Seaside elevations are typically at 3 feet above sea level, whereas Little Haiti, Overtown and Little Havana lie at 7 feet to 10 feet.
But, perhaps, another reason for the pressure to move west is simply that we’re running out of buildable land next to the ocean.
The question is not how to thwart market forces, but how to alleviate displacement of historic residents, including those who built historic neighborhoods in West Grove, Little Haiti, Overtown and Little Havana.
We can learn from what we’re doing in the West Grove and Overtown: I call it “Reverse Gentrification,” and it has the following parameters:
- As with the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, the most important factor to prevent displacement is to supply substantial economic incentives to existing residents and businesses. The funding mechanism of a community redevelopment agency is based on pledging future real estate taxes to borrow money for present capital projects. The Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA has been successful in that effort, producing bonds in excess of $100 million and redevelopment of similar magnitude.
- A lot of displacement happens when inner-city residents become disgusted with their neighborhood schools, parks and other amenities. What we have done in the West Grove is reverse those trends and pump government and private funds into after-school programs, beautification projects and affordable-housing initiatives that give people alternatives to cashing in on their increasingly valuable real estate. (For example, both elementary schools in the West Grove are now are Grade A schools for academic achievement.)
- Much of urban blight can be eliminated without displacing residents. In the West Grove, South Miami and Coral Gables, we have done that through funding mechanisms and non-governmental agencies such as Rebuilding Together and Habitat for Humanity, which tap into human capital and existing real estate so as to rehab rather than replace historic homes. More than 100 residential units, including four shotgun shacks and nine homes in the Lola B. Walker neighborhood, plus about 80 single-family homes in South Miami, have been renovated in this collaborative fashion.
- A lot of the success we have had in my district has been based on engaging organizations and property owners who are already there and empowered by their own investment. In the West Grove, we have been blessed with the entrepreneurial foresight of property owners like the Gibson Plaza ownership consortium and the owners of Grove United to Succeed (GUTS). We didn’t have to invent the people or provide capital for their acquisition of property. They did that themselves and rode out years of neglect until government began to pay attention to them and provide gap financing and other governmental incentives.
Reverse gentrification is not easy. And climate gentrification is not inevitable.
Enlightened government can use climate change to bring resources to bear in a way in which long-time residents not only are respected, but encouraged to stay and enjoy the comparative advantage of their geography.
Xavier L. Suarez represents District 7 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.