Postcards from the Edgewater

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Navarro, who first purchased property in the neighborhood three years ago, dismisses the allegations and says they can be traced to jealous competitors who want to buy his buildings. When he acquires a property, he insists, he makes it better. “I buy them with problems and bring them into compliance,” he says. “I don't condone criminal elements, and I keep the buildings clean.” He also is eager to defend his tenants, who he says are unfairly stigmatized because they're poor. “Ninety percent are working class with legitimate jobs,” he claims. Besides, he adds, “This area is undesirable. [It] will never be South Beach. It's got about another twenty percent growth, and then it will plateau.”

Navarro has a partner in three of his properties: Ofcr. Carlos Mendez, a patrolman with the City of Miami Police Department, who is attached to the local NET office. They own one building in Edgewater and two in Wynwood. Mendez worked as a neighborhood resource officer in Edgewater until this past February, when Garcia transferred him back to patrol duty. Mendez claims he's been unfairly singled out by Garcia, in part because of his association with Navarro. “There is intense scrutiny of everything we do,” he asserts. But in terms of upkeep, he maintains their housing isn't out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. And though he acknowledges there have been arrests on some of Navarro's properties, he notes that since he and his partner bought their building off Biscayne Boulevard in March, only one arrest has been made at the site -- and he made it. “This is a high-crime, low-income area,” he says. “And unfortunately our tenants, no matter how much we control them, reflect the area.”

Navarro and Mendez say they do the best they can with old buildings. Although Navarro's buildings have been cited -- “a lot,” according to Guadix -- for “unsafe structure,” illegal trash disposal, permit violations, and abandoned vehicles left near the property, he says he takes care of the issues promptly. He complains that he never receives warnings about problems in his buildings.

“Police and code compliance have failed to communicate with landlords,” he maintains, adding that he's had other paperwork problems with the NET office, too. He wishes the office would just go away. “They have no professional knowledge of what is going on,” he says.

The Edgewater Economic Development Corporation is yet another agency claiming a stake in the neighborhood's future. The nonprofit was founded in 1992 by a group that includes assistant Belen Jesuit Preparatory School principal Armando Rodriguez and architect Juan Crespi, the same men who created Concerned Citizens of Edgewater. Until last year Rodriguez served as president. Politicians told the men that if they wanted to make a difference in the neighborhood, they should concentrate on commercial revitalization.

To this end the corporation has three missions: It provides small grants -- about $1400 each -- to repaint commercial exteriors; it hosts an annual fundraising golf tournament, underwritten by the Bacardi company, which has headquarters in Edgewater; and it builds low-income housing.

From July 1998 to September 1999, the organization helped some twenty local businesses paint their shutters, signs, and awnings, for a total of about $28,000. (The corporation receives funds though city and federal block grants.) In that same fourteen-month period, $80,000 of a roughly $155,000 budget went to two full-time staff salaries, for executive director Juan Jane and a secretary. (It appears that most of the rest of the budget went to administrative costs, such as rent and insurance.)

The low-income housing hasn't happened yet, though Jane says the corporation has spent five years trying to begin to build two single-family homes in the neighborhood. (They broke ground on both at the end of June.) It took several years simply to buy the property, he explains, and the city has rejected three building permit applications. “I tell you, it has been a hell of an experience,” he concludes. “I have learned a lot.”

Armando Rodriguez and his family, like Navarro, own a number of shabby buildings in Edgewater, some of them redesigned to squeeze in extra apartments. The façade of one of his eight-unit properties is chipped and the building number looks painted on. The entrance is marked by one rusted, askew handrail leading to a battered metal door. A foul-smelling open Dumpster stands close to the entrance. No curtains cover the grimy windows. Inside the hallway floors are bare plywood. Out back the “yard” consists of a layer of poured concrete.

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Jacob Bernstein
Contact: Jacob Bernstein