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Miami Herald – Sept. 11, 2005

Resentment is rising as communities are remade

Residents say that redevelopment is causing an upheaval in black and Hispanic communities as neighbors are forced to move and separate.

BY Peter Bailey

Sitting in her cramped one-bedroom apartment in the Annie Coleman Gardens housing project, Mary Nesbitt yearns for her old neighborhood in Liberty City.

It was an urban fairy tale -- barbecues, block parties and basketball games in the nearby park -- that ended in 2001 when Miami-Dade city officials decided to demolish the former James Scott and Carver public housing project. The decision forced out Nesbitt and 856 additional families.

''We were a family, and now they've moved us all over the place . . . they just uprooted our lives,'' she said.

On Saturday, Nesbitt joined more than 200 residents at the Grace Haitian United Methodist Church to protest what organizers called ''the hurricane of gentrification'' tearing apart Miami's predominantly black and Hispanic communities.

The town hall forum became a platform for residents from Liberty City, Overtown, Wynwood and Little Haiti to voice concerns over code violation harassment, lack of affordable housing and burgeoning property taxes.


As the throng of fired up protesters packed the room, organizers led a chant of ``We're not going anywhere!''

''This hurricane of gentrification is sweeping through our neighborhoods disguised as urban renewal and revitalization,'' said Linda Sippio of Low Income Families Fighting Together (LIFFT).

``Bankers, city officials and investors are at the eye of the storm trying to bribe us into thinking it's good for the community.''

Overtown's location near Miami's business district makes it a prime target for redevelopment. One example: The Crosswinds project, which calls for the building of 1,250 condos on Eighth Street and Third Avenue. Local activists and residents have filed a lawsuit against the city to kill the project. Residents said the push to get them out has been driven by stricter enforcement of code violations.

''We had to pay a fine for a gate that was in the front yard for years . . . sometimes we see people staking out our house in the middle of the night,'' said one homeowner who claims to be the only Hatian homeowner left on a street in the Design District.

''All the other Haitian families were harassed until they just gave up and sold their homes,'' said the woman, who did not want to be identified.

Affordable housing advocates charge that building codes -- ignored by city officials in the past -- are now being strictly enforced in the name of redevelopment.

''As neighborhoods become poor, the government stops caring about them,'' said Charles Elsesser, an attorney with Florida Legal Services.

``As the value of the land starts going up, people start inspecting the property.''

Speaking to weary homeowners on Saturday, Elsesser shouted this advice: ``Don't sell!''

Amid the protesters, Dwight Moorer expressed the toll the redevelopment is taking on the areas' small businesses.

''The mom-and-pop stores are the life of the community,'' he said. ``They're planning to put a parking lot in front of my store's entrance and I'm going to have to move.''

Moorer owns a trucking and towing company. His business at 6023 NW Sixth Ct. sits squarely in an area designated for a proposed transit hub that includes a three-block parking garage and bus transfer station.


Moorer, who employs 10 workers, said he doesn't feel like starting over after being in business for 24 years.

''If they go through with this they're taking away our means to feed our households,'' he said. ``It might be a small business to them but it's all we have.''

As for Nesbitt, she just misses being able to have her granddaughter over for sleepovers.

''They moved me from a spacious two bedroom to a shoe box,'' she said. ``My grandchild can't even spend the weekend.''

She encouraged the crowd on Saturday to stand up and take action.