The messages usually warned of impending construction projects following years of water damage from the storm. But this notice served to warn them of something far less expected: the mass termination of their leases.
Some residents say they were notified by the Hamilton's building manager a week prior. But for many, the email was the first they heard of the news. The announcement said the renters had until July 16 to find a new place to live.
Amid one of the tightest rental markets in Miami in recent years, even the comparatively well-to-do residents at the Hamilton — where a one-bedroom unit rents for about $2,000 — are being priced out of Edgewater. As the last available lots along Biscayne Bay get bought up and molded into a massive Brickell 2.0, longtime residents are being pushed further from the pulse of the city, leading an entire community to wither in unison.
"I believe that this is a form of gentrification, which prices out seniors, minorities, and young professionals,'' says U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who has been advocating on behalf of the tenants, whose neighborhood falls within the boundary of her 24th Congressional District. "This unfortunate situation is the first of many."
But rising rents in Edgewater threaten most of the renters' ability to stay in the neighborhood. Some are moving as far away as Dania Beach in Broward County, saying they can't find anything comparable in the area.
Osvaldo Pérez, a 60-year-old makeup artist who has lived at the Hamilton since 2002, was able to rent a friend's apartment at the nearby Opera Tower — though it will cost $3,300 a month, twice his current rent. He worries for his neighbors, many of whom are unable to take on the added expense.
"I can take care of myself," he says. "But what about the people that can't?"
In recent years, the once-quiet neighborhood of Edgewater has been transformed by a massive boom of luxury highrises.
For nearly four decades, the Hamilton has largely stayed the same as that transformation took place. Built in 1984 by Carnival Cruise Lines founder Ted Arison, the building, which was considered top of the line in its time, boasts 25 floors with breathtaking views of the bay. Units start at 1,036 square feet, generous for an apartment in Miami.
Despite its once-sterling reputation, the Hamilton is now considered antiquated. Gran Paraiso, just three minutes away, has 53 floors, with one-bedroom condos for rent starting at $3,100. And more high-rises are on the horizon.
The area's dramatic makeover coincided with the onset of a housing boom that began around 2002. As Brickell grew more congested and downtown developers grew hungrier for fresh acreage, eyes turned to Edgewater.
"We've tended to overbuild but then, ultimately, whatever the housing stock is gets consumed," notes Paul George, the resident historian at HistoryMiami museum.
George anticipates the same for Edgewater: "This is one of the most beguiling and appealing areas in the country during this COVID pandemic. A lot of people from New York and elsewhere have moved here and, believe it or not, I think that area will eventually swallow all those high-rises being built at this point."
Ricardo De Paramo, who lives at the Hamilton, has watched the neighborhood lose much of its small-town vibe over the past decade and a half.
"I've seen a lot of changes over the last 13 to 14 years," De Paramo says. "There weren't many high-rises. There used to be more families and small buildings."
For most residents at the Hamilton, Edgewater just isn't in their price range anymore. With rents rising, there's a loss of what the neighborhood once represented for them: home and community.
Homes with an expiration date
For many who'd lived at the Hamilton for five, ten, or even 30 years or more, the longer leases seemed like a no-brainer. Plus, AIMCO was offering a discounted rate to boost occupancy, since about half of the units had been vacant since Irma.
Leases had a termination clause and addenda that warned of the possibility that the building might be redeveloped. But it wasn't until the May 17 email that most residents figured out what that meant.
Miami-Dade County requires that buildings be recertified every 40 years to ensure safety, and the Hamilton is coming up on its official requirement. When AIMCO acquired the property, the company began consulting with structural engineers to scope out any issues. That's when it found problems with the building's sewage and drainage systems.
AIMCO senior vice president Lee Hodges says the structure will soon be rendered unlivable because of "irreversible damage" to its wastewater system. In the coming months, access to running water and sewage will be turned off and entire units will be stripped down and gutted for renovations. Once that happens, no residents will be allowed to remain in the building.
"Rest assured AIMCO has done everything in its power to commence construction with the residents in the building," Hodges said in a statement to New Times. "AIMCO continues to reach out to the residents who need help."
Before terminating a yearlong lease, Florida landlords must give tenants at least 60 days' notice, which was the amount of time AIMCO initially gave residents to vacate. But on July 5, after pushback from the tenants, who contacted a lawyer and multiple local lawmakers, the company sent an email agreeing to allow tenants to remain in their units until September 16. Some construction will take place in the interim, although AIMCO has vowed to limit the hours during which it will take place.
Company representatives say they've gone above and beyond in helping residents relocate, noting that about 90 tenants have already moved out. Hodges tells New Times that current residents will be prioritized to return to their units in the building after construction is complete, although the new rental prices will reflect competitive rates in the fluctuating housing market.
Yet for many who live in the building, those promises aren't enough. A group of tenants working with attorney David Winker is seeking a pause on all construction and move-out compensation of at least $22,500 per unit.
Those residents have poured time, money, and resources into having their demands met. Five of them traveled to AIMCO headquarters in Denver on June 30 for a demonstration alongside local activist groups.
In an email to AIMCO on July 7, Winker reiterated their concerns.
"The ball is in your court because even the residents who are willing cannot move without adequate financial assistance," he wrote.
Some residents wonder whether the battle against AIMCO will be worth it and whether it will yield any further results. Hamilton renter Caroline Martin, for one, is tired of fighting.
"I have enough on my plate," she says. "Right now, I really just want a roof over my head."
But others say angling for a position at the negotiating table is the right thing to do for the future of the neighborhood, and for renters across Miami.
"It's important that people fight together as a community," says Greg Frank, one of the main tenant organizers. "We want to make sure to take a stance and set a precedent: People will not just be trampled over. We're renters, but we're people."
Osvaldo Pérez, 60On the morning of his 60th birthday, while vacationing in Mexico, Osvaldo Pérez got a call from a neighbor who broke the news about the terminations.
"It was like this bomb exploded," Pérez tells New Times. "An ambush."
At the Hamilton, Pérez’s apartment had more than enough room for his kitschy furniture — leopard-print couches, striking paintings, ornate chandeliers. The common areas comfortably fit his altar "for the angels" and his two parrots, Paco and Cuca. He, his partner, and the birds planned to stick around for many more years.
At their next apartment in the Opera Tower, Osvaldo will no longer be able to see the full moon he looked forward to watching rise each month. He will, however, be able to see the Hamilton, forcing him to think about the home he once had there and the as-yet undetermined fate of his former neighbors.
Caroline Martin, 36Caroline Martin has lived in her apartment for almost 11 years. The 36-year-old paralegal braved the big city alone with her Papillon dog, Lola, and along the way found a tight-knit community within the building.
"I'm a single woman, and I've done everything on my own for a very long time," Martin says. "But I felt like the rug was pulled from underneath my feet. Suddenly the only thing that I knew was solid in my life wasn't solid anymore."
She's gone to look at places as far south as Kendall and as far north as Miami Shores. Martin is in the process of applying to a new complex in the Upper Eastside where the rents are comparable to those at the Hamilton. Although she's working remotely, the eventual return to the office will cost her an additional 40 minutes roundtrip.
Greg Frank, 40A Miami native, Greg Frank bounced between Dade and Broward while growing up, but in 2014, he decided to move back to the city for good. That same year, he met his future wife.
A year later, the couple moved into the Hamilton. In 2020, they had their first son, Charles.
The Franks were saving up for their first house, a place for their son to grow up. They planned to stay at the Hamilton until they could make the move to homeownership.
Unable to afford a comparable apartment in the area, the family will be moving 20 miles north to Dania Beach.
"We don't want to go anywhere," Frank says. "We moved here for a reason."
Diana Pérez, 67Diana Pérez ran into the Hamilton’s building manager on May 20. She originally approached him to follow up on a question about her patio furniture.
But he looked perplexed. Then his face paled. That's when he told her he had news to break.
Pérez compares the experience to what she went through as a human resources professional when she had to deliver bad news, only this time she was on the other side of the table.
"I felt like I was let go from my job," Pérez says. "I was let go from my house. There's a right way and a wrong way. That's why we feel so strongly."
Ricardo De Paramo, 56As Edgewater has changed, Ricardo De Paramo has changed with it, cycling through jobs and putting down roots. But he didn't expect to be forced to rip them out so soon.
Edgewater is where he built a life with his husband, Cesar.
"He loves living here more than he loves me," De Paramo quips. "We feel safe in this building."
The couple found a new complex in Hallandale Beach, although it will cost $700 more than their current rent. And Cesar will have to make a 40-minute commute to his job in Miami.
"There's a lot of fear with this change," De Paramo says.