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New Affordable Housing Cooperative Opens in Liberty City

The Housing and Healing Justice Corps is a new affordable housing co-op in Liberty City.
The Housing and Healing Justice Corps is a new affordable housing co-op in Liberty City. Photo by Naomi Feinstein
Angela Jenkins, a single mother from Georgia, moved to Florida seeking a better life for herself and her children. Instead, she found herself in a cycle of homelessness for 14 years. After a stint in the state prison system, Jenkins is one of two residents so far living at the Housing and Healing Justice Corps, a new affordable housing cooperative formed by two nonprofit groups — Struggle for Miami's Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH) and Women with Broken Heals.

"This is the first time in nearly two decades that Angela has stable housing and is living in a good situation," says Trenise Bryant, founder of Women with Broken Heals.

The five-bedroom home in Liberty City serves as transitional housing for Miamians struggling to find a place to live amid rising rent prices. The house includes a garden, conference room, and an office space for the tenants. SMASH leased the house in the spring until it purchased the property with a $465,000 loan from Right to the City, a national alliance of community-based organizations fighting for housing justice.

"The affordable housing cooperative is a place for the community to have affordable housing, but also to build power for housing justice in Miami," says Adrian Madriz, executive director of SMASH. "This is an opportunity to take land out of the speculative market, put it in the community's control, and make sure it is always an institution working permanently for housing and healing justice."

Each tenant must go through an application process to live in this one-of-a-kind cooperative in Miami-Dade County. Once they are approved, they are only responsible for paying the monthly rent of $700, which includes, water, electricity, cable, and internet. SMASH expects each tenant to stay for about a year, though they can live there as long as they need to get back on their feet.

The tenants are obligated to go out into the community to advocate for housing justice. They also have the opportunity to collaborate with Women with Broken Heals to work through past trauma.

"Transformative justice is definitely needed here [in Liberty City]," Bryant adds.

Kelli Ann Thomas, a community council member of South Dade, says this is a significant moment for those who are unable to keep up with rent increases, especially Black women who are disproportionately affected by the nation's housing policies.

By early 2022, rent in Miami had increased by 57 percent year-over-year, according to a data from Realtor.com. With increased investment and gentrification of low-income neighborhoods now pricing people out, a survey by Public Land for Public Good Miami found the county will need to offer at least 210,000 units of affordable housing to avoid a housing shortage.

Madriz says SMASH hopes to turn the house into a limited equity co-op, where the tenants are able to purchase a share of the property and build equity on it. SMASH, whose members primarily live in Little Havana, Overtown, Little Haiti, and Liberty City, is planning to offer similar affordable housing cooperatives in every county commission district.

"Rent is just too damn high," Madriz says. "This is going to be the first of many housing and healing justice cooperatives so we can achieve housing as a human right in Miami."

Local homelessness activist David Peery argues this initiative will help level the playing field between owners and renters and guarantee better tenant protections. He says more government regulation is needed to alleviate the current housing crisis and stem the tide of landlords pushing out tenants.

"The power differential between tenants and landlords is huge," Peery says. "You have all of this outside money coming in, and all these sellers who are dictating all of the terms, and they are pricing out the common individual. That's why we need cooperatives like this. We have the power of the community to surmount that challenge."

SMASH is fundraising to pay back the loan by Nov. 1, so it can readily purchase more property and form another affordable housing cooperative.
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Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein