A chainlink fence pretends to protect an abandoned property tucked in between a church and a restaurant in Model City. An easy fidget with the lock opened the door, while an effortless look inside the derelict property reveals fresh trash left behind by a recent intruder. This property has been abandoned for more than 20 years, according to a neighborhood activist.
A drive around Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti, will show many new residential, business and hospitality construction projects. But while new development is underway in District 5, many current homes and buildings throughout these neighborhoods remain in unsafe, dilapidated conditions. As of April, there are more than 1,800 open, unsafe structures cases throughout the city of Miami, with District 5 representing the majority of the cases, public records show. Some community members believe that the proliferation of run-down buildings throughout these neighborhoods creates health and safety hazards that eventually hurt the community.
Of the combined 1,800 open unsafe structures cases in the city of Miami, 756 of them are in District 5, records show. In contrast, the other four districts have less than 280 open cases each.
Community activist, Sam Latimore, has been documenting the varying stages of crumbling buildings throughout District 5 for more than 10 years. Latimore, who is president of the Hadley Neighborhood Association, said the dilapidated state of many of the homes and buildings has a salient effect on residents, especially children and young adults.
“I began to notice that all over the city there were decaying buildings in unsafe conditions,” he said.
The city deems a structure unsafe if it is vacant, unguarded with open doors or windows; has an accumulation of debris; creates fire hazards; exhibits signs of structural cracks, rotting wood termite damage and has walls and/or roofs that have caved, among other signs, according to building department’s website.
Calls for comment to city’s building department went unanswered.
Latimore has been actively working to highlight the issue and bring it to the attention of the Miami Building Department. For more than 10 years, he has reported countless unsafe structures to the 311 service center. He has often attended code enforcement meetings to voice his concerns regarding the neighborhood’s abandoned properties. And in addition, a District 5 representative is often present at the Hadley Park Neighborhood Association meetings, where they talk about the issue at length.
Many of the buildings in Liberty City, Overtown, Model City and Little Haiti have been in deplorable conditions for more than 20 years, Latimore said.
He pointed a property near Northwest 45th Street and 17th Avenue as an example of a decaying structure that he believes the building department and the city willingly allow to remain in the area, though it presents a clear safety and health hazard.
The building is sandwiched between the Faith Temple Church of Christ and the Conch It Up Soul Food restaurant in Model City. Large tree roots protruding from the foundation; caved in roofs exposing sharp, wood planks; an open doorway; and trash are visible at the property. Though the building is surrounded by a chain link fence, a lock easily unlatches and allows anyone to get inside.
The KREMP building near Northwest 45th Street and Seventh Avenue is another example of eyesore that Latimore believes should have been demolished years ago. The large building has clear signs of cracked infrastructure, an exposed roof, and its walls remain upright only by the support of large steel beams that are bolted to the foundation. Graffiti covers the walls and the site is accessible by ducking through a boarded up doorway.
The building was built in 1926 and has a lot size of 7,160 square feet. The land and building are appraised at close to $134,000 and zoned for mixed commercial and residential used. Records show the building is owned by KREMP Building LLC based out of Aventura. A call to a number connected to the property was answered with,” it’s not for sale.”
When bringing these concerns to the building department and the city, Latimore says that the city can’t force private owners to clean trash, make repairs or demolish without their consent.
“That’s the key issue that the city has hidden behind,” he said. “They said that they can't go on private property without the owner’s consent. But what if it impacts health and safety?”
The derelict buildings promote the proliferation of trash and pests, Latimore said. Many of these types of buildings are directly inside or nearby a school zone.
“Negative environments have a negative impact on what children see, think and believe,” Latimore said. “How do you leave home with a positive attitude when you are passing by garbage?”
Most recently, Latimore has been working with Florida International University students, touring them around the most-neglected areas in Liberty City and focusing on those structures deemed unsafe by the city. The students are creating a documentary focused on gentrification and the affordable housing crisis as part of their senior project.
The slum and dilapidated buildings issue is a symptom of gentrification and the affordable housing crisis in Miami, says Adrian Madriz, an activist in Liberty City. Madriz, who represents Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing, has been actively educating renters about slumlord practices in various District 5 neighborhoods and beyond.
Many of the property owners of the unsafe structures are outside investors who recognized the inherent value of high-elevation, low-income areas, Madriz said.
Though estimates differ, climate change is expected to raise a minimum of 31 to 81 inches by 2100, according to Catalyst Miami.
Though estimates differ, climate change is expected to raise a minimum of three quarters of a meter by the century, according to Catalyst Miami.
“Many of these properties are sitting unmaintained waiting for the right time to sell and then becomes the next owner’s problem,” Madriz said. “The landlords were just in it to make a dollar and never made repairs of homes.”
Latimore echoed Madriz’s feelings. “The owners of those properties are often away,” he said.
Throughout his documentation of this issue, Latimore says that Miami code enforcement officers have been working throughout the community to identify the homes that are in violation of building codes, but the code enforcement board, which ultimately makes all demolition decisions, has been willingly neglecting the needs of the residents of District 5.
“They are the ones that decide what stays and what goes,” he said. “This does not happen in Brickell or Coral Gables. There’s no justification and it’s unconscionable.”
The Miami Code Enforcement Board could not be reached for comment.