Civic Tower Residents Organize into a Tenants Union
After a mass eviction orchestrated by the slumlord of a Section 8 high rise, the Miami Workers Center (MWC) is helping organize residents of the Civic Towers into a tenants union to fight for repairs and access to their homes. With the slumlord non-responsive and local laws unhelpful to anyone but developers, the residents are building a shantytown on the grounds of the Civic Towers to shelter residents and protest conditions.
The Miami Workers Center is calling on allies to send materials and money to support the residents and fight for Renter’s Rights.
The Civic Towers is a 196 unit apartment complex subsidized by the federal Section 8 rental assistance program. For their 2016 HUD physical inspection, the Civic Towers scored an abysmal 24/100. Immediately afterwards, the property was purchased by California based Redwood Housing Partnership. Redwood, however, only maintained the slum conditions and through a disastrous ‘rehab’ process, which was more successful at forcing residents to move than it was at repairing the horrid conditions. The rehab was halted after walls were knocked down, electrical wires were stripped and conditions made even worse.
The day before Hurricane Irma, Redwood- whose slogan is ‘Raising the Standard of Living- forcibly removed every remaining tenant, claiming the conditions in their building were sub-standard. Residents fear Redwood is using a natural disaster as a pretext to forcibly displace and gentrify them with wealthier tenants.
More than a week after the storm, shelters in Miami-Dade county are full and the housing crisis does not offer many option for low income people suddenly forced out of their homes. With nowhere else to go, several residents began sleeping in their cars parked at the Civic Towers. The residents are overwhelmingly women and many are elderly or disabled. Officials from the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County have said there is nothing they can do.
“This is a clear case of public policy being written by developers and poor people paying the price,” asserts Marcia Olivo, Executive Director of the Miami Workers Center. “If my house is not up to code, the city will fine me and can even take my house. But if developers force low-income seniors to live like animals, they can evict the tenants and replace them with wealthier ones to make more profit.”
Olivo argues slum conditions and housing insecurity disproportionately impact women in low-income Black and Latino populations because those groups lack political power.
This intersectional analysis is behind the MWC’s Femme Agenda, a program that seeks to end the ‘feminization of poverty.’ An integral part of the Femme Agenda is a Renter’s Rights Campaign to organize renters into tenants unions in order to advance the human right to housing while centering the experiences and needs of low-income Black and Brown women.
The MWC is organizing the women of Civic Tower into a Tenant’s Union and building their capacity for leadership. The mainly Latina women of Civic Tower have met with the mainly Black women in Liberty City also being organized into a union, in what could result in a powerful Black-Brown alliance. The newly formed Civic Tower Tenant’s Union is demanding:
The Civic Towers is immediately brought up to code starting with the units of the remaining tenants. If the developer is unable or unwilling, the city of Miami should make the repairs and bill the Redwood Partners for those repairs, plus fines;
That Redwood is held responsible for conditions in the building and, therefore, are required to provide temporary housing- including moving expenses- for the residents until all repairs are made;
“We are not just fighting for the residents of Civic Towers,” says Esi Fynn-Obeng, MWC housing organizer. “If these demands become public policy, countless other renters in the county would benefit as well.”
The Renter’s Rights Campaign is pursuing policies and laws that criminalize slum conditions, compel municipalities to make repairs to sub-standard housing and empower municipalities to lien derelict properties for the value of those repairs, without increasing rent. In addition, if residents are required to relocate for repairs, the cost of relocation and temporary accommodations should be borne by the slumlord, a law already in place in Miami Beach and other cities across the country.
Because Redwood Partners have been slow to respond and laws protecting renters are inadequate, the MWC is helping organize a shantytown on the grounds of the Civic Tower. The shantytown is designed to provide food, sanitary practices and basic protection from the elements for residents, but also to protest inadequate laws, the lack of quality low-income housing and lax enforcement of housing codes.
The Civic Tower leaders are women heads of household fighting for their homes and for the human right to housing. The tent city will include political education sessions, a people’s assembly model to make collective decisions, management of donations, erecting temporary structures to protect residents against the elements and instituting protocols that rely on internal security and restorative justice practices to resolve conflicts.
We are digging in for a prolonged struggle and need your support. Dozens of people are living in the outdoors under the stifling Miami heat with little protection from the elements. We are in need of donations to make life bearable and to strengthen the resolve of these brave women fighting for their homes and for housing justice.
We are in need of sustainable sources of power and comfort items, including:
Luminaid or other solar powered light and USB charges;
crank powered radios and USB charges;
battery operated fans;
tents and air mattresses;
bug and mosquito repellent;
water and food;
Feminine hygiene products;
Sanitary products, such as hand and dish soap and sanitizer;
Donations can be made to the Miami Worker’s Center at theworkerscenter.org and items can be dropped off or shipped to:
c/o Miami Workers Center
745 NW 54th Street
Miami, FL 33137
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