Overtown ponders the cost of urban renewal.
Land values are soaring in such places as Wynwood, Liberty City, east Little Havana and west Coconut Grove. But nowhere is the change being felt more than in Overtown. At one time the economic and cultural capital of black Miami, it is now among the nation's poorest neighborhoods. Average income is about $12,000 a year. Crime is rampant in the community of 9,000 that sits in the late-morning shadow of Miami's glittering downtown skyline.
CHANGES: "People are feeling a fundamental threat to their lifestyles," says Sushma Sheth of the Miami Workers Center.In the last few months, two major mixed-used developments have been approved in Overtown, the first in decades: Lyric Promenade, a $93-million project that will include a 150-room Hilton Hotel, a blues club, market-rate condominiums and apartments; and Crosswinds, a 1,000-unit condo and apartment project that will include office and retail space. Crosswinds, a for-profit venture on city-owned land, was conceived by the non-profit Collins Center for Public Policy, which asked developers to submit plans that would help revitalize the area.
But rebirth is not painless. As land changes hands, some of it for the first time in generations, many Overtown activists are sounding the gentrification alarm. Their concerns took center stage last spring at a kind of regional summit on gentrification where residents, public officials and academic leaders debated the challenges of skyrocketing real estate prices and development.
Much of the new housing will be priced well beyond the reach of most residents of Overtown, where homeownership is barely 10%. In June, tempers boiled over when tenants of a low-income apartment building in Overtown were sent eviction notices shortly after an upscale high-rise developer acquired the property. The developer temporarily rescinded the evictions after residents staged a high-profile protest. And in July a group of activists sued Miami to halt the Crosswinds project until a neighborhood impact study gauges the effect on affordable housing.
"There's an underlying sense of futility and inevitability," says Sushma Sheth of the Miami Workers Center, an advocacy group and grass-roots resource center for low-income neighborhoods. Residents of Overtown and similar neighborhoods, Sheth insists, must work to leverage the coming change to assure they remain stakeholders. "Gentrification is a process, not a single event," says Sheth. "People need to know they can be part of that process."