Real Estate

Hialeah Mayor Offers Federal Rental Assistance, Still Supports Capitalism

Hialeah Mayor Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Jr. (center), addresses reporters to discuss rental assistance for residents experiencing massive rent hikes in the city.
Hialeah Mayor Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Jr. (center), addresses reporters to discuss rental assistance for residents experiencing massive rent hikes in the city. Photo by Joshua Ceballos
For transplants from New York City and San Francisco, where wages and the cost of living are higher, Miami's apartments seem like a steal.

But for local renters — who are already considered the most rent-burdened in the nation — the estimated 34 percent increase in rents year-over-year has some residents scratching their heads as they struggle to calculate how to keep a roof over their heads while making ends meet.

Hialeah has become ground zero for South Florida's housing-affordability crisis: Just last month, tenants at a Hialeah apartment complex protested a 65 percent rent hike from $1,000 to $1,650 a month, even as promotional material for a new luxury apartment complex, Shoma Village, where rents will start at $1,700 a month for a studio apartment, touted Hialeah as "the Brooklyn of Miami."

To address what he called a "serious crisis" with rent increases in his city, Hialeah Mayor Esteban "Steve" Bovo, Jr., held a press conference at Hialeah City Hall on Tuesday to announce his plan to help residents avoid eviction.

Beginning this month, the city will use federal coronavirus relief funds to help tenants whose rents went up during the pandemic. Bovo specified that the money could only be used toward rent, and could only cover the difference between a tenant's original rent and the new rate.

The announcement to use government money to pay for rent raised more than a few local eyebrows: Bovo is a staunch conservative who ran for mayor last year on a small-government platform and snagged an endorsement from ex-president Donald Trump.

But Bovo assured the crowd, "Yo entiendo capitalismo. Yo soporto capitalismo." ("I understand capitalism. I support capitalism.")

Local news blogger Elaine de Valle of Political Cortadito tweeted that Bovo's message sounded "a little 'progressive,' maybe even, dare I say it, 'socialist.'" Seventy-three percent of Hialeah's population self-identifies as Cuban or Cuban American — the highest concentration in any U.S. city. The majority of Cuban immigrants arrived in South Florida in the decades that followed Cuba's socialist revolution and, as a voting bloc, tend to vote conservative and denounce even the implication of "communism" or "socialism." Of the 48 electoral precincts in Hialeah, 46 tallied a majority of votes for Trump in 2020.

Bovo explained that applicants for rent aid will have to meet certain criteria — including proof of U.S. citizenship, which may be an issue for immigrant-heavy Hialeah. The money must also go directly to the landlord, not the tenant.

The rental assistance program is a temporary measure, and Bovo explained that it may only be used for an initial three-month period with an additional three-month extension if necessary.

"It can be a slippery slope when governments start wading into these situations," Bovo said, "and it can skew things."

When asked about long-term solutions for affordable housing in Hialeah, Bovo declared that Hialeah will not consider any form of rent control.

Hialeah councilman Jesus Tundidor doubled down on the mayor's sentiment.

"In no way, shape, or form is the city in favor of rent control," Tundidor asserted. "We want to help temporarily, but the government can't help permanently. We believe in a free market."

So short of rent control, what's the solution for the crisis Hialeah renters find themselves in? According to Bovo and Tundidor, it's...more development.

"More construction and more development will be good for our community," Bovo declared. "We need to make hard decisions."

Hialeah residents are advised to call 305-863-2970 to determine whether they qualify for rental assistance. But New Times was unable to reach anyone after dialing the number three times on Tuesday afternoon and evening.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos