Little Havana Condo Residents Endure Weeks Without Power

Carlos spent his first week of kindergarten sleeping in a hotel and then in a hallway.

He lives with his dad, hulking King of Diamonds employee Alex Velasquez, in the Altos de Miami condo building in Little Havana, near Flagler Street and SW 22nd Avenue. His unit is one of 47 that's been without power since August 7.

At first, the building put Velasquez and his family up in a $120-a-night hotel. It wasn't the Ritz-Carlton, but it wasn't a Motel 6 either. All in all, it wasn't so bad. On August 15, a note came under the door that said it was time to pack up and head home.

What should have been a relief was a slap in the face. The power was still off. The next day, residents received notice that they'd be without electricity — and therefore air conditioning — for several more weeks. Currently, they're stuck paying rent on boiling, uninhabitable condo units.

The trouble is all due to a failed Siemens electrical control panel, says building manager Jorge Gonzales, who adds that he's not sure how long it will take to order the needed piece of the panel, which has to be custom-made. The building is doing the best it can to fix the problem, he says.

But try telling that to residents such as Willie Gomez, who hasn't been able to get hold of Gonzales since the power went out but has heard the power will be off for another six to ten weeks. "I have a wife and two kids, and my wife has a heart condition — she can't be in that heat at all," he says.

When he returned from the hotel to find the power still off, Velasquez began rabble-rousing.

So he asked his building's management what he was supposed to do with Carlos and his 5-month-old sister. The family was camping in the air-conditioned hallway. After voicing his concerns, he was promptly mailed a letter saying that the building association wasn't approving a renewal of his lease and that his family had 45 days to move elsewhere.

Other tenants say they're afraid the same could happen to them if they confront management. "This is a consequence of the real estate boom," says one tenant, who asked to remain anonymous. "We had a developer that did a really shady job on the building."

Altos de Miami is listed as a project of B Developments, which acquires "distressed property." A spokesman for B Developments says that the firm has had nothing to do with the building since 2009 and that a back-up generator was included as part of the original construction. The condo association has been responsible for all maintenance since then, the developer says.

Velasquez isn't particularly concerned about who is to blame. It's in the high 90s outside and even hotter inside a bunch of condo units filled with stagnant, humid air. "They should get a goddamn generator or something," he says. "It's going to be a big problem when someone has a heat stroke."

 
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