Miami-Dade police arrived at Maria Cazañes' South Beach apartment on an August evening as she was making herself a cafecito. By the end of the night, Cazañes and her family were homeless. As the rest of the county hunkered down for Hurricane Dorian, the sanitation department picked up Cazañes' belongings from the alley behind her home.
Cazañes' story reignited a serious conversation about the state's lax tenant protections during natural disasters, and local officials began taking steps to protect Floridians from being evicted during hurricanes. This week, Miami-Dade County joined cities such as Chicago in safeguarding some residents from being booted during a storm.
Tuesday, county commissioners established a new policy protecting public-housing residents from evictions during natural disasters. Sponsored by Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, the legislation ensures that Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development and the Miami-Dade Police Department do not facilitate any evictions from county-owned affordable housing.
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"There are a lot of affordable communities in Miami," says Denise Ghartey, a staff attorney at the Miami nonprofit Community Justice Project. "After a natural disaster, resources that should be available to them are too often difficult to access. Giving people more time and easing fears and trauma is definitely a step in the right direction."
In the past, thousands of eviction notices have been delivered to Miami-Dade residents while the county was in a state of emergency due to hurricanes. Local community organizations say 2,208 evictions were filed countywide during Hurricane Irma. The county itself submitted 32 eviction notices from affordable housing during that time. And 470 residential and commercial eviction notices were filed in Miami-Dade during Hurricane Dorian, according to data the Community Justice Project shared with New Times.
Miami-Dade's new policy, however, would not have helped Cazañes, who did not live in public housing. Commissioners were able to implement an eviction moratorium only on county-owned properties, such as affordable and public housing.
A similar policy on private housing is preempted by the state, but companion legislation in Tallahassee could make eviction moratoriums during natural disasters a part of state law. Bills from state Sen. Jason Pizzo and Rep. Michael Griceo have been referred to committees for review.