Occupy Miami's Overtown Safehouse Now Owned By Non-Profit, But Neighbor Complains Conditions are "Worse Than Ever"
Miami is full of strange structures with odd stories, from foreclosed upon mansions to ancient burial grounds -- not to mention $2 billion baseball boondoggles.
No building boasts a bio as bizarre as 540 NW 7th Street, however. Once bought by a Colombian politician for $1.6 million, the Overtown apartment building was rechristened "Peace City" by the dozens of Occupy Miami protesters who moved in last year. But the supposed paradise soon became a den of drugs and violence. Several residents were arrested on terrorism charges. And the building was condemned in April of 2012, and its enigmatic owner was thrown in jail.
Now comes the latest twist in Occupy Miami's not-so-safehouse. The building has been officially signed over to a recently created non-profit organization called "Peace City Inc." But a neighbor says conditions have only gotten worse.
"People are urinating on the corner and people on drugs," says Terry Matias, who owns the apartment building nextdoor. "They look like zombies."
No one from Peace City Inc. could be reached for comment. The non-profit's president and agent is listed online as Karel Soucre, but New Times could not find any other record of her. An email sent to Soucre bounced back.
State records show that the non-profit was founded in December. Shortly thereafter, Rodrigo Duque -- the building's enigmatic, messianic owner -- signed the $1.6 million apartment complex over to Peace City Inc. for a nominal fee of $100.
Matias says that the title transfer has done nothing to prevent the building's decline. Originally condemned in April of 2012, things have gotten "worse, worse, worse," she says.
"The filth is unbelievable," she says. "You smell the stench of urine when you go to park your car. Two of my tenants have had their cars broken into. And you see people throwing garbage out the window. It's a disaster."
Matias claims that the building has filled up with "junkies and prostitutes," but her real anger is directed at the City of Miami.
Earlier this month she sent a letter to Miami mayor Tomas Regalado, city commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, and chief of police Manuel Orosa complaining about the eyesore. She says cops with the local Neighborhood Enhancement Team called her back a couple of days later.
But when police, building, and code enforcement officials showed up to 540 NW 7th Street last Wednesday, Matias says they did nothing at all.
"They showed up in the shiny truck and held their flashy little make believe meeting," she says. But they haven't responded to her since.
"It's a disgrace for the city," she says. "The building was deemed unsafe a year and a half ago. So why is the city still permitting people to live there?"
"The conditions are getting worse because the city has ignored this particular building," Matias continues. She says she couldn't care less who owns the place, as long as it's imperiling the neighborhood.
"The new ownership has nothing to do with it," she says. "If the building is unsafe, it's unsafe. Close it up, get some plans, but until you do something [to fix it up] you can't have people living there."
After complaining for 18 months, Matias says she only has one more recourse: "to just embarrass the shit out of the city bureaucrats."
"I don't want them to think that that little meeting, that little performance was good enough," she says. "I'm not going to let it go. They have to close that building down."
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