The Knight of Blight

Miami developer Aristides Martinez once seemed an inner-city savior. Today he goes by another name: Slumlord.

Petersen followed up his missive to Rodriguez by helping to organize a series of tenant meetings. At the first such gathering, 70 women crammed into a small room at Charles Drew Elementary School. They compared horror stories and tried to fashion a plan of action. They held several more encounters at Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Twelfth Avenue and NW 59th Street. Their solution: Move out.

Petersen and the women invited housing officials, city and county commissioners, and even Martinez to the meetings. Martinez never showed but after the fifth one, when Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Carey-Schuler began attending, Petersen was hopeful. Although the women had complained for years, only the clout of a juvie judge and a county commissioner caused city and county housing agencies to get serious. Soon there were results. The county moved swiftly to shut down Martinez and to get the women Section 8 certificates; within a year the Miami Dade Housing Agency cancelled its contract with Miami Limited. The city would follow suit in October 1999. In March of this year the last of the Miami Limited II tenants finally were relocated.


Steve Satterwhite
After Teresa James (top) told city commissioners she hated living in her Martinez-owned apartment so much she didn't care for repairs, she just wanted out, Gwendolyn Warren (bottom), director of the city's Office of Community Development, said she would implement a barrage of inspections on the landlord's properties
Steve Satterwhite
After Teresa James (top) told city commissioners she hated living in her Martinez-owned apartment so much she didn't care for repairs, she just wanted out, Gwendolyn Warren (bottom), director of the city's Office of Community Development, said she would implement a barrage of inspections on the landlord's properties

Shortly before Thanksgiving 1999 Martinez's luck seemed to take another turn for the worse: One of his vacant Liberty City properties had sprung a nasty leak. A backed-up pipe caused raw sewage to flood the asphalt courtyard of 1370 NW 61 St. When Miami Police Ofcr. Wade Orner responded to the scene, he was outraged. Children walked through a pool of germ-infested waste twenty yards wide and several car lengths long.

After several inspections that week, during which the sewage spill was not remedied, Orner set out to arrest Martinez for creating a sanitary nuisance. On November 30 at about 10:30 a.m., the developer was led away from his Coral Gables office by a small platoon of Miami cops. Martinez found himself, for some brief and uncomfortable moments, behind bars.

But even when Martinez is unlucky he seems to have a way of getting off easy. After posting a $500 bond, the developer was home by midafternoon. And authorities dropped the sanitary-nuisance charge after Martinez remedied the sewage leak on December 1. "The point was to obtain compliance and that was done," says State Attorney's Office spokesman Don Ungurait. "The main thing in a case like this is to fix the problem."


In South Miami-Dade, just west of U.S. 1 near the Cutler Ridge Mall, there are four recently constructed $86,000 homes. Eighteen more of the three-bedroom, two-bath, single-story structures are slated to be built by the end of the year. Called Caribbean Villas, this project is part of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas's Infill Housing Initiative, which is designed to give low-income families a chance to purchase houses. Developers buy available lots, private lenders provide first mortgages, and the Miami-Dade Housing Agency offers second mortgages at low-interest rates. (The county has set aside one million dollars for its part.) MDHA also helps find potential buyers. The projects must go through a complicated approval system that involves Rodriguez, County Manager Merrett Stierheim, and the county commission.

Who stands to make money off the sale of the Cutler Ridge homes? Art Martinez, who is building the structures in partnership with Community Reinvestment Agency, Inc., a nonprofit corporation directed by developer José Miranda. Commissioners approved the proposal for the homes a mere two months before the MDHA terminated the Miami Limited contract.

If the properties sell as expected, Martinez could pocket as much as $300,000.

You can buy a Caribbean Villa for as little as $500 down, with monthly payments as low as $525. Sounds like a pretty good deal for persons of humble means looking to get a leg up. But remember those Liberty City projects Martinez "renovated" in the mid and late 1980s? In as little as four years, those buildings began falling apart. Should these structures begin deteriorating, the burden of repairs is going to fall squarely on the low-income buyers.

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