Darlene Jackson, West Grove resident: I don’t want to have my home bought out.
This comment by Darlene best reflects the community’s most urgent concern: “gentrification”. By this we refer to the situation where longstanding residents must sell their homes to developers and newcomers as the price of living close to downtown increases beyond their means. The West Grove, an area rich in the vibrant culture and history of its traditionally Caribbean and Bahamian residents, deserves special attention.
My purpose as county commissioners is to reverse this trend, and in doing so, protect the historical residents and their families who wish to stay in the. To achieve this goal, we are involved in seven interlaced projects:
1 – “Envelopes of Safety” for Students
Following a 2016 shooting at Frances Tucker Elementary in Coconut Grove, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho deemed it imperative that the County provide a safe environment for all students, from the moment they arrive on campus until they return home. We have already begun this project by creating afterschool programs for students, providing them with opportunities to learn martial arts, visual arts, and music. These programs have already been implemented at Frances Tucker Elementary, Paul L. Dunbar K-8 Center, Southside Elementary, Silverbluff Elementary, Citrus Grove Elementary, Henry Flagler Elementary, and Eneida M. Harner Elementary.
Results have shown that half of the students chose to engage in creative writing and lyrical expression programs, while the other half chose to pursue either urban arts expression or sports and wellness programs. The 8:1 student-to-teacher ratio allows the youth to create meaningful relationships with their instructors and receive personal counsel for the program’s 16-week duration. Even more telling, the programs fostered mentorship and individual growth in areas of socialization, communications, academics, the arts, and self-care.
2 – Identifying Parcels for Affordable Housing
Our biggest accomplishment regarding affordable housing has been the Gibson Plaza housing development. Gibson Plaza contains 56 affordable housing units alongside educational services provided by Miami-Dade College through the Mitchell Wolfson Foundation. One of the more notable aspects of this project is the importance of collaboration between the government and local communities.
We have worked closely with multiple local churches, including Christ Episcopal and Greater St. Paul, with the goal of providing affordable homes on existing vacant properties for families who are burdened financially. City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell (District 2) has agreed to champion this project with zoning and funding support.
3 – New Urban Development
Grovites United to Survive (GUTS) and New Urban Development, part of the Urban League, have recently signed off to transform the intersection of Grand and Douglas into an affordable housing project with 75 to 100 units. Additionally, this project, which began in the fall of 2017, is designed to bolster the daily lives and social growth of residents. It features a newly constructed outdoor market with new spaces for local businesses. On Saturdays the space at Goombay Plaza is reserved for local food vendors and entertainers to make the area more inviting for residents and visitors alike. It is the product of a collaboration between the University of Miami’s School of Architecture, the Knight Foundation, City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, and myself.
4 – Making Government Land Available
Gibson Plaza is a shining model of a successful affordable housing project. However, we need a way to make government-owned land more readily available in order to replicate such an achievement. Government-owned land is the solution to the costly problem of acquiring land for such projects.
One solution that I have proposed is the relocation of the Fire Academy. From this space, up to 230 affordable housing units could be constructed. This solution is a key initial step to achieving our ultimate goal of creating 560 new affordable housing units in Coconut Grove.
5 – Youth Apprenticeship Programs
Recently, multiple small-scale apprenticeship programs have been implemented in the Miami community. In May, Miami Dade College, in collaboration with the United States Department of Labor, the Florida Department of Education, and third-party industry partners, launched the MDC Works: Apprenticeship Program. As the first initiative of its kind in the state, the program is committed to addressing the shortage of aviation technicians in South Florida by identifying talent, providing subsequent education, and illuminating potential career opportunities upon completion of the program.
Furthermore, our Miami-Dade Youth Pre-Apprenticeship program helped 99 students earn positions in paid internships and in 13 apprenticeship programs, aiding them in their quest to achieve industry certifications.
6 – Beautifying the West Grove
In May of 2016, my staff along with youth from the West Grove community repaired, painted, and re-landscaped 82 concrete planters throughout the neighborhood. As a part of this project, we will also continue to maintain the beauty of these planters while monitoring the area for illegal dumping to ensure that our streets are kept free of litter. All the work was completed on a volunteer basis, and all materials were donated by the Coconut Grove Home Depot and Tenusa Inc. The generosity from our community helped us to achieve our goal in a cost-effective manner. Additionally, District 7 will soon commence with its latest project of planting flowers along Day Avenue with the help of Million Trees Miami.
One main goal of this initiative is the implementation of pop-up containers on the intersection of Grand and Douglas. These containers will initially serve the purpose of providing a free location for storefronts for local businesses. Eventually, these storefronts will be converted into affordable housing units, which is an aspect of our long-term plan to be implemented a few years down the line.
7 – Public Health and Health Care
In 2017, Community Health of South Florida provided healthcare services to over 83,000 patients in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. As both the cost and demand for healthcare continue to trend upwards, allocating additional funds to community health organizations throughout South Florida will allow more individuals to receive quality care. We are certain that this expansion will enhance the livelihoods of residents throughout our city.
The points outlined above are important pieces to a large effort to protect the historically vibrant area of the West Grove. Gentrification is not just an influx of new development, it inherently involves the loss of unique and vibrant communities. If we do nothing to protect the West Grove, we will continue to lose these communities until we are left with one homogenous landscape devoid of historical and cultural radiance, without which Miami would not be the beautiful and diverse city it is today.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez can be reached at 305-669-4003 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.