Miami Homes For All has a straightforward message: everyone deserves a home that is safe, stable, and affordable.
They work tirelessly to prevent and end homelessness in Miami-Dade County.
Audrey Aradanas, assistant director of programs at Miami Homes For All, has lived in Miami since 2003.
“Growing up, from California to the Cayman Islands to here, I didn’t really have stable housing. My family or I was living with another family, for most of my childhood.”
Miami is a vibrant and bustling city full of character and culture.
“When we first moved here, [my family] moved into this tiny two-bedroom one bathroom condo in Brickell. After a year [of living there], I remember my parents stressed-out because the rent was raised significantly,” Aradanas said. “Then, my parents shared that the landlord said they were going to knock down the building so we couldn’t stay. We only had a few months to try to find somewhere else we could afford. We didn’t have a functioning car, my dad worked downtown, and I went to school in the area so we couldn’t move too far.”
Gentrification Versus Revitalization
Many housing advocates define gentrification as a profit-driven barrage of attacks on race and lower socioeconomic status. Abandoned buildings and businesses which are foreclosed on or at risk of eviction, places where property and land prices are low, and the chance to make a large profit due to the influx of wealthy wage earners that are willing to pay higher rents.
“When a community is gentrified, the wealthy displace low-income communities, typically Brown or Black [folks],” Aradanas said. “The community may find themselves priced out from where they grew up.”
A recent example of extreme gentrification is San Francisco and the Bay Area in California. Due to the rise of tech companies in Silicon Valley and the close proximity to the Bay Area, land values and housing costs increased dramatically. Race and power have always been tied to gentrification. The wealthiest and well-paid folks in San Francisco are white, and the people being displaced are Black and Brown people.
“Revitalizing a neighborhood is centering a community’s values. When a community is revitalized successfully, they get to build their own vision and make it sustainable,” Aradanas said.
Reinvigorating a community without gentrification is possible through community engagement and mobilization. Bringing more community leaders actively engaged at the table is key in order for them to voice their concerns and those actions are monumental for a healthy community.
“We moved a few blocks away to another apartment. Our first month in that apartment, we were robbed. I remember the police doing a preliminary search and not doing anything afterward. So, we were left with an almost empty apartment. We lived there for about two years when the rent was raised again,” Aradanas said. “I remember my parents not understanding why the rent was raised so much since the building wasn’t well-maintained — we had to update it ourselves most of the time. Looking at where my old apartments used to now stand these huge condominiums.”
Today Aradanas draws upon her experiences growing up to try to make Miami a better place to live.
“When I started working with MHFA, I realized how common my story was — and that’s not OK for such a vibrant and amazing community,” she said. “I’m so glad to work with a team that’s changing Miami for the better.”
Jim Crow Era in Miami
The humble beginnings of the metropolitan known as Miami are traced back to the early 1800s.
Julia DeForest Tuttle was an American businesswoman, landowner and wealthy widow from Ohio who was able to befriend and convince Henry Flagler, the railroad tycoon, to expand his Florida East Coast Railway down to Miami.
On July 28, 1896, Miami was officially incorporated, with a population of just 300 people.
There would be no Miami without African American labor. Bahamians and African Americans constituted 40% of the city population when it was originally founded.
Less than 30 years later, the city of Coral Gables founded in 1925.
Each neighborhood is so full of history, but there is a constant underlying issue in the Tri-county; there was this marriage of racial hierarchy and discriminatory housing practices that were rampant in the early 20 century and still exists.
The Gables needed Black servants within relative proximity; thus, Overtown grew rapidly during the 1930s, consisting of rows of dilapidated, squalor homes packed tightly together.
Living conditions were atrocious, and basic necessities were nonexistent. There was little running water to be found, no indoor plumbing, and the roads that run through the neighborhood were largely unpaved. While the rest of the Magic City enjoyed electricity, the dilapidated shacks were plunged into darkness every night.
Fears of an outbreak of disease began to arise due to the overcrowding. The lack of sanitation created a perfect breeding ground for disease, which became a rising concern to Miami attorney, John Gramling.
A not-entirely-altruistic Gramling voiced his opinion numerous times and wrote to the Public Works Administration on countless occasions. His writings were meant to inform them of the prevalence of tuberculosis in Black neighborhoods. He once wrote, “From this cesspool of disease the White people of greater Miami draw their servants.”
Reverend Culmer and Liberty City
Reverend John Culmer, a civic leader and minister from Saint Agnes Episcopal Church, rallied his community and spearheaded a campaign to improve the housing conditions and sanitation in Black neighborhoods.
Community activism and mobilization made huge waves by pushing for community engagement. A subsequent media campaign addressing the substandard living conditions in Overtown and Liberty Square, which is now known as Liberty City, successfully led to the Liberty Square Housing Project.
In 1934, construction of the 753-unit public housing complex began. Even though the government subsidized the rent in Liberty Square, it mainly attracted middle-class Black families. Compared to other similar projects, it was still considered pricey for the neighborhood.
Liberty City was nicknamed “Little Broadway of the South” because of the hundreds of Black-owned businesses lined West Second Ave., hosting everything from a rich nightlife, a vibrant music scene, and community centers.
Post-World War II, in the 1940s and ‘50s, the city of Overtown was a refuge and sanctuary for Black mainstream singers, poets and writers. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, W.E.B. Du Bois were not allowed to stay at the Fontainebleau or Eden Roc on Miami Beach.
“What I saw in Brickell, I saw happening in other communities. Fortunately, we have incredible organizations pushing to keep people in Overtown, Little Haiti, and Little River from being priced out of their homes.” Aradanas said. “However, there is still a lot of community organizing and advocating to do — changing these neighborhoods’ landscapes to benefit the neighborhoods and keep their cultures.”
A United Effort to Helping Miami-Dade Youth
The lack of stable and affordable housing was a rampant issue prior to COVID-19 in the Tri-County. With COVID-19 affecting marginalized and already vulnerable groups, it has brought many scarcities to light.
The Helping Our Miami-Dade Youth, HOMY collective, is a cooperative effort of 100 organizations and agencies addressing youth homelessness in Miami-Dade.
“MHFA is the backbone of HOMY and we bring young leaders, service providers, local government, and more to advocate and push for systems change to end youth homelessness. HOMY is a movement to focus on youth, change how we serve youth, and to create youth-friendly policies.” The Youth Voice Advisory Council is a committee that is entirely made up of youth who have experienced homelessness and leads HOMY’s strategies and next steps.
It’s an extensive lattice-work of support for youths and created by youths, providing a preventative approach rather than reactionary methodology, focused on education, employment, and behavioral health care.
“We’re about centering LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color as they are overrepresented in our system,” Aradanas said. HOMY’s vast network provides support and services to youth and young adults that are experiencing housing instability or a vulnerable housing situation.
Housing Insecurities and the LGBT Community
Census of youth experiencing homelessness, iCount Miami 2020:
- 15% of youth identified as LGBT
- 50% identified as Black or African-American
- 42% identified as Hispanic/Latinx
The statistics for LGBT youth homelessness are daunting.
“LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk of experiencing homelessness. Nationally, up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+,” Aradanas said. “Locally, we know one of the major reasons why youth experience homelessness is because of family conflict — many of our youth were told to leave home after identifying as LGBTQ+. Sometimes, home isn’t the safest place for many of our young people, particularly, if they are LGBTQ+.”
In a time of crisis, many funders have stepped up to support youths and families, and provided emergency funding in order to assist with rent and utilities.
Representation is Important
“Miami is the melting pot of the U.S., it’s what the future will look like” is attached to every ad campaign trying to recruit people with diverse backgrounds to work in Miami.
However, looking at the statistics, there are less than 2% of Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders in Miami.
“As a Filipinx-American and being bisexual, it’s been interesting navigating across Miami-Dade,” Aradanas said. “My experience may be different from others but what remains the same is this sense of otherness and microaggression racism. Because I’m Brown, Asian, Hispanic, and Bi, each identity comes with its own weight.”
Aradanas continues, “My friends that are Black and LGBTQ+ have different experiences. Unfortunately, they are underrepresented and undervalued. In all that we do as a community, we must center their voices, their work, and their experiences.”
Despite the political climate and racial reckoning that’s currently occurring in the United States, Aradanas remains hopeful that this year will be one of great growth. She’s excited to see what other young leaders will step up to the forefront with more innovative ideas than ever before.
This is a part of an SFGN series on local BIPOC leaders making a difference in the community. Check out the other stories at sfgn.com/bipoc.