Live rats in the toilet. Bathroom floors covered in mold. This isn’t a third world country. These are the living conditions in some apartments in Miami-Dade County.
Smash the Slumlords is trying to change that.
According to New Geography the average population of cities throughout the United States is a little over 20,000 residents. In Miami-Dade county, over 75,000 people — nearly four times the average city population — is currently on the waiting list for affordable housing. Most of them won’t settle into their affordable units for years.
While those that have made it into affordable housing need not worry about the wait, their struggles are far from over. The vast majority of them are living, in the most basic sense of the word, in some of the worst conditions imaginable.
“One of our residents opened up his toilets one day to live rats,” Adrian Madriz, CEO of non-profit organization Smash the Slumlords said. “The bathroom tiles are covered in mold, it has completely decayed the tile from underneath. Repairs for these kinds of things cost a lot of money and landlords just don’t want to do it.”
Smash the Slumlords was created to combat gentrification and — you guessed it — smash corrupt slumlords in Miami-Dade county. Madriz and his organization aren’t pulling their punches, labelling affordable housing buildings as “dumpsters” and utilizing lawsuits against slumlords as one of their driving tactics.
“There is absolutely an affordable housing crisis in Miami. No one would want to pay $600, $700 to live in what is basically a dumpster if not for how expensive the rest of the housing in Miami is. The landlords are aware of this fact, and taking advantage.”
Smash the Slumlords — along with its sister company “Worlds,” a mobile for-profit video game company — aim to raise funds and awareness for this issue by starting at a ground level, bringing community members together for weekly video game nights to build relationships and inform the public of the housing problem in the city.
While the living conditions of some of these buildings are horrendous, habitable housing costs significantly more in Miami. Affordable housing is locked around 60 percent of the median income in Florida. Without those restrictions, the other prices of other housing locations skyrocket each year as the demand for real estate in Miami rises.
For Madriz, what people get for the base rent in Miami blatantly shows how corrupt some of the landlords can be. They are taking advantage of the high demand of housing, and even those who want to do something to fix their buildings don’t have the space to relocate existing tenants.
“There literally is such a lack of affordable units that there is no flexibility as a city to relocate these families as their buildings are repaired,” Madriz said.
He continued, “The people right now are living in buildings controlled by a slumlord or in co-ownership by the city and a slumlord. Even the city can’t do major work on these buildings because they’d need to condemn and destroy the building and relocate families, the buildings are that bad.”
Smash is currently working predominantly in Liberty City to build affordable housing that will be used to relocate tenants living in condemnable conditions while their buildings are repaired. That way Smash the Slumlords will be able to go building to building and renovate affordable housing to a higher, actually livable standard.
Additionally, Madriz hopes to lock the price at 30 percent of the median Floridian income, half that of the usual 60 percent.
“These people are the poorest of the poor, and they need truly affordable housing,” Madriz said.
Smash estimates that there are currently 150 families living in these situations, with an average of 3-4 members per family. If the organization is able to keep its momentum, Madriz believes that they will be able to address this issue in five years or less.
In order to achieve this and ensure truly affordable housing in the future, the organization plans to sue slumlords for ownership of the land, and put that land under control of a community trust.
A community trust basically puts decisions made for that land — what and where to build, rent prices, etc. — under the control of the people who live there. That way the community and Smash will be able to ensure quality housing that is truly affordable for the people who need it the most.
In order to build dedicated housing and repair slum housing in its current state, the organization is constantly looking for sources of funding, and one solution is their sister business “Worlds."
“We provide video gaming entertainment to parties and events, we bring consoles and games and activities people can do with the equipment — we provide the games and the experience,” Madriz said.
Worlds is one stream of income, but Smash the Slumlords needs more resources to accomplish their goals, and are actively looking to secure funding sources as well as individual donations. So far the organization has raised $2,278 on Give Miami, powered by the Miami Foundation.
The goals of the organization also go beyond building affordable housing units and renovation. One of Madriz’s goals involves dedicating units to homeless LGBT youth, helping some of the displaced with free housing.
According to the Miami Herald, 40 percent of homeless people in the United States under the age of 24 identify as LGBT. While there are homeless shelters geared toward people under the age of 18 in Miami, there are no shelters in Miami-Dade county geared toward people between 18-24.
In youth shelters and otherwise, the Herald reports that many LGBT youth, especially trans youth, often report negative experiences such as bullying or inaccurate housing assignments based on gender.
“LGBT homelessness in Miami-Dade county is a huge issue,” Madriz said. “We want to devote some units of our affordable housing buildings solely to LGBT youth who need housing. When this is all over we want to have opportunities for completely free housing for LGBT youth.”
Even as Smash the Slumlords works to provide liveable affordable housing to people living in deplorable situations, there is still the much larger issue of the thousands-long waiting list for affordable housing in Miami.
Smash the Slumlords may be working at ground level, but they hope that setting a new precedent for affordable housing in Miami-Dade county and establishing supportive communities will inspire the city and other organizations to follow suit in developing quality affordable living.
“By emphasizing small clusters of families and buildings and organizing communities in the most essential way, developing relationships between neighbors, we will plant the idea of moving collectively into prosperity,” Madriz said. “We will start to have communities that are truly holistic, communities in the most basic sense of the word: living together and looking out for each other.”
For more information on Smash the Slumlords, as well as volunteer and support opportunities, visit SmashTheSlumLords.org.