Next door real estate agent Alex Justo also owns an eight-unit apartment building. While both structures are identical architecturally, Justo has devoted considerable labor and money into fixing his up. A filigree ceramic street address is attached to the front wall. A black security fence encloses the property, and two large royal palm trees bracket the front. The entrance is marked by a wood-frame glass door with a wreath hanging over it, and the new windows are decorated with lace curtains. The building has a fresh coat of paint, hardwood floors, and spotless halls. Everything in there is brand new, except the bathtubs, he says, and I had them restored. Out back a graveled courtyard offers a gardenlike retreat. Justo charges tenants an additional $100 to rent his apartments, and he fears that the Rodriguez building is dragging down property values and keeping out the kinds of tenants he hopes to attract.
Like Navarro, Rodriguez defends the condition of his building and insists everyone doesn't move at the same pace. I have tenants who have lived there for ten years, he says. I do things little by little. There is a difference between being clean and being all bon vivant. And while his tenants are poor, he insists he won't tolerate criminals. Some people confuse poverty with delinquency, he notes.
Crespi is sympathetic to both positions. He believes the extensive subdividing of old homes and apartment buildings is the legacy of the neighborhood's past as a dumping ground. When it was run-down, in order to meet your expenses, you had to be creative and build more apartments, he says. As the neighborhood improves, better rents will be available, and things will return to normal.
Last month Concerned Citizens of Edgewater hosted a community meeting attended by about 75 residents and property owners who piled into a second-floor conference room at the Juan Pablo Segundo Jesuit retreat to discuss problems in the community. Among those present were Joel and Michelle Rodriguez, and Alex and Diane Justo. Officer Mendez showed up, off-duty. Cofounders Armando Rodriguez and Juan Crespi turned out an impressive array of city staff, including recently elected City Commissioner Johnny Winton, new City Manager Carlos Gimenez, and new Police Chief Raul Martinez, to answer questions and take complaints.
Residents continue to protest bitterly about crime and trash, and that night the city officials promised to redouble efforts to clean up the area. Commissioner Winton promised that the city would begin foreclosures against landlords of derelict properties who refuse to comply with city codes. But then came a surprise announcement: plans to build a 180-apartment building for low-income and Section 8, or welfare-recipient, tenants.
Alarm in the crowd was evident. It was as if the city didn't yet grasp what these residents were trying to do. A development like this can wipe out years of progress, bemoaned one homeowner. Some people still view this as a blighted area. Why, he wanted to know, hasn't the city produced a master plan for Edgewater?
Joel Rodriguez confesses he's torn about the future of Edgewater. As a real estate agent, he believes land must be put to its greatest value. It's a shame that real estate so close to the water is a slum, he believes. At the same time, he remembers the love and work that went into his buildings. Ideally the city will find a way to be creative while preserving the old properties and character of Edgewater. That's what attracted us to the neighborhood, he says.