Carlos spent his first week of kindergarten sleeping in a hotel, and then in a hallway. He lives with his dad, hulking King of Diamonds employee Alex Velasquez, in the Altos de Miami condo building in Little Havana, near Flagler and SW 22nd Avenue. His unit is one of 47 that's been without power since August 7.
At first, the building put Velasquez and his family up in a $120-a-night hotel. It wasn't the Ritz-Carlton, but it wasn't a Motel 6, either. All it all, it wasn't so bad, and Carlos's transition to Sunset Elementary went decently well. Last Thursday came a note came under the door that said it time to pack up and head home.
What should have been a relief was a slap in the face. The power was still off. The next day, residents received notice that they'd be without electricity -- and air conditioning -- for several more weeks, and that they had to fend for themselves in the meantime. Currently, they're stuck paying rent on boiling, uninhabitable condo units.
The trouble is all due to a failed Siemens electrical control panel, says building manager Jorge Gonzales, who adds that he's not sure how long it will take to order the needed piece of the panel, which has to be custom-made. The building is doing the best it can to fix the problem, he says.
But try telling that to the residents like Willie Gomez, who hasn't been able to get a hold of his building manager Gonzales since the power went out but has heard the power will be off for another six to 10 weeks. "We've already been out of power for 15 days," he says. "I have a wife and two kids and my wife has a heart condition, she can't be in that heat at all."
When he returned from the hotel to find the power still off, Valsquez started rabblerousing. "We were told to solve our own problem -- go live on the streets, live in the heatwaves," he says.
So he asked his building's management what he was supposed to do with Carlos and his five-month-old sister. The family was camping in the air-conditioned hallway, with only regular McDonald's excursions to to break up the monotony of staring at the daisy-yellow walls. After voicing his concerns, he was promptly mailed a letter saying the building association wasn't approving a renewal of his lease, and that his family had 45 days to move elsewhere.
Other tenants say they're scared the same could happen to them if they confront management. "This is a consequence of the real estate boom," says one tenant who asked to stay anonymous. "We had a developer that did a really shady job on the building and gave us an electrical panel that was supposed to last no less than 50 years and lasted closer to five."
Altos de Miami is listed as a project of B Developments, which acquires "distressed property." An employee reached at the firm declined to talk about the building.
Update: A spokesman for B Development says the firm has had nothing to do with the building since 2009 and that a backup generator was included as part of the original construction. The condo association has been responsible for all maintenance since then, the developer says.
Velasquez isn't particularly concerned about who is to blame. It's in the high 90s outside and even hotter inside a bunch of condo units filled with stagnant, humid air. "They should get a goddamn generator or something," he says. "It's going to be a big problem when someone has a heat stroke."
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