After the state of Florida expanded Interstate 95 in the '90s, only a few feet separated America's busiest highway from houses along NW Sixth Avenue in Miami-Dade County. Residents organized, and their protests seemed to work — in 2002, former Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler met with three of the homeowners, who say she promised the county would buy their properties and relocate them to safer housing at no cost.
But after the county dragged its feet for more than 15 years, the three seniors filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade and the Florida Department of Transportation in May. Now, just one week after New Times chronicled the homeowners' plight in a cover story, Miami-Dade attorneys have offered the homeowners a new settlement: Just $500 each.
"It's an insult and a 'to hell with you,'" says 73-year-old Sybel W. Lee, one of the plaintiffs. "I think they think we're ignorant."
Since the interstate was expanded and a huge concrete barrier wall was erected behind their homes, Lee and her two neighbors, 74-year-old Mary Anne McMinn and 85-year-old Nathaniel Williams, say their houses have become unlivable. All three have suffered from respiratory problems they attribute to the constant gas fumes from traffic, and the plumbing in their homes has been damaged to the point they can no longer flush toilet paper.
Despite years of reaching out to politicians and government officials for help, the homeowners' concerns have been ignored and even trivialized. After Lee and McMinn explained they were scared an 18-wheeler could come crashing through the barrier wall and into their homes, FDOT sent them an extremely unconcerned response saying that scenario was entirely plausible:
The seniors' attorney, Matt Person, says the county's $500 settlement offer is just another setback in a long series of disappointments for the three residents.
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"It just says that they're not really concerned about the homeowners," he tells New Times.
The Miami-Dade County Attorney's Office has declined to comment while the case is pending. Lee and McMinn say they will reject the county's offer and, in all likelihood, head to trial.
In their lawsuit, they have asked a judge to award $1.2 million in damages, plus moving costs and enough money to purchase new homes.
"We want exactly what was promised us in 2002, at least," McMinn says. "Look, we're elderly. It's not right."