Gentrification Threatening to Destroy Little Haiti, Community Leaders Warn

As the art world descends on South Florida for Miami Art Week, there's no doubt the glitterati are shifting their gaze to Little Haiti. Everyone from New Times to the New York Times has written this year about the Caribbean neighborhood's shift as galleries flee rising Wynwood rents.

This morning, a coalition of community activists, business owners, and residents had a message for developers: Little Haiti won't be the next Wynwood if they can help it.

"In the midst of this beautiful international art bonanza, in Little Haiti a different story has emerged," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, which organized the demonstration. "This is the story of business and homeowners being pressured and threatened one minute, sweet-talked the next to sell their homes. They're being offered two, three times the property of their homes to get out. Gentrification is here, baby."

Under a beating December sun, Bastien and her allies issued a list of demands on behalf of the neighborhood, ranging from the creation of an official Little Haiti cultural district to placing curbs on developers through a sustainable growth plan.

The goal? Bringing investment and jobs to the neighborhood without booting out the Haitian community that made it famous.

"We believe the cultural identify of the Haitian people and the imprint they have made in this neighborhood should be preserved," said Joan Milord, executive director of the NE 2nd Avenue Partnership. "We welcome new people to the area, but they need to recognize that Little Haiti was built on the backs of all the Haitians who came here."
Gentrification is already affecting residents, Bastien said, and a number of them showed up to tell their stories, including Clairemise Blanc, who said she's being kicked out of her mobile home at the Little Farm trailer park on the border of El Portal that a developer recently purchased.

"Now that they're kicking me out, I don't know where to go. I'll have to sleep under the bridge," she said, choking back tears as she gripped a sign proclaiming, "Little Haiti is not for sale." 

Bastien said the list of demands released by the coalition could make a difference and prevent the downsides of a rapid transformation like in Wynwood, where many longtime residents and businesses have been priced out.

The group calls for a new community land trust to preserve space for small businesses and housing; an officially designated area for the neighborhood and a cultural district to preserve its heritage; stricter zoning laws and requirements for developers to study how their plans would impact existing residents; a "community benefits agreement" that would set living wages for local residents and steer business toward area Haitian-American firms; and the creation of a Little Haiti CRA, which could use city funds to fuel sustainable growth.

"Little Haiti is changing fast, and families are being displaced," Bastien said. "While we welcome and admire the art and diversity, we are greatly concerned about losing the character, the cultural history, and the legacy of Little Haiti."
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink