Quantcast

Has Climate Gentrification Hit Miami? The City Plans to Find Out

Climate
A person walks through a flooded street in the Brickell area of downtown as Hurricane Irma passes through on Sept. 10, 2017 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Robynne Boyd

Liberty City, Florida, feels a world apart from the glitzy beaches, posh boutiques and multimillion-dollar residences of Miami Beach, though it's only four miles away as the pelican flies. You may recognize this community from the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. Here, the streets thrum to the beat of Miami bass, the aroma of Haitian griot and banan peze (fried pork and plantains) wafts out from the area's restaurants, and homes are painted in bright hues that speak of their owners' Caribbean roots. According to longtime residents, though, the character of the neighborhood is changing as wealthier Miamians move in.


"The place just don't feel like home anymore," said Valencia Gunder, a community strategist who was born and raised in Liberty City. "And I believe climate change has everything to do with it—because the people who are moving here would never have stepped over here before."

The mood is similar in Little Haiti, Little Havana, Overtown and Allapattah. Segregation shunted people of color to these less desirable, landlocked neighborhoods around the turn of the last century. These communities perch atop Miami Rock Ridge, an elevated stretch of land extending like an alligator's spine from the northern tip of Miami-Dade County down to the Florida Keys. And this higher ground may now be driving up real estate prices.

Much of the city sits just six feet above sea level, and many neighborhoods are vulnerable to the expected sea level rise of 14 to 34 inches by 2060. Former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has called the city "ground zero" for climate change. Meanwhile, at higher elevations, many of the residents of Liberty City and other underserved black and Latino communities say they feel pressure from real estate developers to sell their homes. The phenomenon is being called climate gentrification, and this year Miami is undertaking a study to better understand what's happening

Miami is the second-fastest growing big city in the country. So even without the threats of sea level rise and more intense hurricanes and storm surges, it would be experiencing development pressure, said Jane Gilbert, the chief resilience officer for the city. That said, a 2018 Harvard University study shows that real estate at higher elevations in Miami-Dade is appreciating at a faster rate than elsewhere in the county. Gilbert says that research, along with the anecdotal evidence pouring in from residents, helped inspire the city's study. If climate gentrification is happening, Miami wants to get out in front of it.

The city will kick off the study by gathering data on rates of property turnover, increases in land values, purchases by companies, building permits, and opportunity zones to help pinpoint the high-lying neighborhoods experiencing the most development pressure.

The second step is identifying what policies exist (or are needed) to help renters and homeowners stay put if they wish to. One move in the right direction is the Miami Forever bond, which dedicates $400 million to addressing sea level rise through improving seawalls, roads, and stormwater pumps, in addition to creating more affordable housing opportunities. Still, more support is needed.

According to a 2015 report issued by Miami-Dade County, more than 60 percent of its 2.7 million residents are struggling to make ends meet, and around 21 percent live below the poverty level with annual incomes of less than $16,000. The Miami Herald reports that in Miami Beach, wage increases aren't keeping pace with housing prices (rental or otherwise), causing service workers and public servants to leave. Now, the threat of getting priced out is creeping up the real estate map's contour lines.

"We can't have an economy that's thriving if the workforce is not living where they work," said Caroline Lewis, founder of the Miami-based Climate Leadership by Providing Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) Institute, a nonprofit that engages the public in climate change education and action. "If we're going to create a society where the haves and have-nots are separated by two hours of traffic, it becomes unlivable, unfair, and furthers the strain on everything that life asks."

Fortunately, there are ways to combat gentrification. Cities can develop inclusive processes and policies that ensure residents can chart a way forward in their own communities, explained NRDC's Sasha Forbes. Forbes is the state and local policy coordinator for SPARCC (Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge), an initiative to improve the environmental, health, and racial equity of vulnerable communities in six U.S. cities. Community benefits agreements also can help. Under such agreements, a community group supports an upcoming development project in exchange for the developer providing a community need, such as affordable housing, green space, or jobs for local residents. Other strategies include enacting homeowner and tenant protections like rent control, just cause eviction, tax freezes and community land trusts. Inclusionary zoning, whereby developers dedicate a percentage of new housing units to lower-income residents, can also help. In all, a mix of equitable housing protection, housing preservation, and new housing is needed.

"The time to implement protective policies is now," said Forbes. "If we don't move fast enough, we will see historic and institutional inequities repeat themselves, displacing cultures and people who could then suffer the consequences of housing insecurity and vulnerability to climate change."

"Miami's study will hopefully help the city understand that climate gentrification is a shift in demand across all incomes demographics," said Jesse Keenan, the lead author of the Harvard study and a professor of urban development and climate adaptation. He said the problem is bigger than Liberty City, or Miami, or the whole of Florida. "We might have housing pressure in Atlanta from displacement originating in Florida, from state to state, and even transnationally as a component of climate migration."

Unfortunately, some level of movement and displacement is inevitable. Put simply, people are going to move to where it doesn't flood. And as the effects of climate change continue to batter Florida, much of the appreciation or depreciation of a household's single largest asset, usually the house, will be out of the current owner's control.

But there's also an opportunity here, added Keenan, a chance for cities to start living up to sustainability goals. Places like Miami, for instance, would have to densify development on higher land. Urban planners frequently promote higher-density layouts for efficiency in terms of transportation and to counteract sprawl; the challenge is to make sure that protective policies and plans for smart growth benefit everybody. This is particularly challenging in Miami-Dade, with its rapid growth, high fragmentation (34 municipalities) and too few civic institutions that give a voice to broad segments of the populace. Liberty City, and others, want a seat at the table.

"If I just had a magic wand, the county would give us the money to redevelop our own community in our own way," said Gunder, laughing. "We have the ability to imagine a safe, clean, and healthy community." But she fears time may be running out. "The water isn't here yet, but the sharks are at the door."

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pick one of these nine activism styles, and you can start making change. YES! Illustrations by Delphine Lee

By Cathy Brown

Most of us have heard about UN researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.

Read More Show Less
Jamie Grill Photography / Getty Images

Losing weight, improving heart health and decreasing your chances for metabolic diseases like diabetes may be as simple as cutting back on a handful of Oreos or saying no to a side of fries, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
A boy gives an impromptu speech about him not wanting to die in the next 10 years during the protest on July 15. The Scottish wing of the Extinction Rebellion environmental group of Scotland locked down Glasgow's Trongate for 12 hours in protest of climate change. Stewart Kirby / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

It's important to remember that one person can make a difference. From teenagers to world-renowned scientists, individuals are inspiring positive shifts around the world. Maybe you won't become a hard-core activist, but this list of people below can inspire simple ways to kickstart better habits. Here are seven people advocating for a better planet.

Read More Show Less
A group of wind turbines in a field in Banffshire, Northeast Scotland. Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Scotland produced enough power from wind turbines in the first half of 2019, that it could power Scotland twice over. Put another way, it's enough energy to power all of Scotland and most of Northern England, according to the BBC — an impressive step for the United Kingdom, which pledged to be carbon neutral in 30 years.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Beekeeper Jeff Anderson works with members of his family in this photo from 2014. He once employed all of his adult children but can no longer afford to do so. CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

It's been a particularly terrible summer for bees. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is allowing the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor back on the market. And just a few weeks prior, the USDA announced it is suspending data collection for its annual honeybee survey, which tracks honeybee populations across the U.S., providing critical information to farmers and scientists.

Read More Show Less

tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rachel Licker

As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to get confused about which foods are healthy and which aren't.

Read More Show Less