On an average day over 300 evictions are filed in Miami-Dade County. Many of those involved in the revolving door of evictions are low-income families living in private rental housing, a group that receives little to no support from legal service providers. We know from our caseload and from community anecdotes that low-income tenants in Miami are processed rapidly through an eviction process that favors landlords and offers little due process, much less justice, for low-income tenants.
The Community Justice Project has worked extensively with the Miami Workers Center and Power U Center for Social Change as they organize tenant unions to fight the slumlord epidemic in Overtown, Liberty City and Wynwood. CJP also partners with Legal Services of Greater Miami to represent tenants in affirmative lawsuits against landlords who refuse to comply with state building and safety codes.
REPORT: THE STATE OF MIAMI'S RENTERS
In 2008, Power U Center for Social Change, created the Renter Majority Project (RMP) in response to growing epidemic of substandard conditions and illegal evictions in the low-income historically African-American neighborhood of Overtown. As one of its initial projects the RMP began a study of renter conditions with the assistance of the Data Center and the Community Justice Project (CJP) of Florida Legal Services. The results of that study have just been released.
While much has been written about the state of homeownership or commercial real estate in Miami, not much has been written about renters in Miami, much less poor and minority renters. In 2009, Power U collected 954 surveys in the neighborhoods of Liberty City, Little Haiti, Wynwood, Allapattah, Overtown, Coconut Grove, and Little Havana. The result was one of the largest surveys of individual renter conditions of its kind. The survey covered key areas of housing costs, quality and renter rights. In addition to the survey, CJP analyzed the dockets of over 24,000 residential eviction cases filed in the 16 months between January 2008 and April 2009. The following outlines the key findings from the study:
- Poor and minority Miami renters are cost-burdened by high rents. Eighty seven percent of households surveyed are cost-burdened as they are paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent. More than half (59%) are severely cost burdened and spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent. High rents force individuals and families to live together in a single unit. The survey found that one quarter of the respondents are living in overcrowded homes.
- Poor and minority Miami renters live in substandard housing conditions. Three quarters (76%) of the residents surveyed experienced some type of housing problem. More than half (59%) of the residents had cockroaches and one quarter (26%) reported seeing rats or mice. Other problems reported included structural issues, plumbing and electrical problems, and mold and mildew.
- Poor and minority Miami renters suffer from a number of health conditions, related to the housing conditions. More than half (56%) experienced at least one health issue. The most common health problem reported was depression (22%), followed by asthma (19%) and headaches (18%). In addition, some residents experienced fatigue, spider or insect bites and skin rashes.
- Poor and minority Miami renters lack basic legal protections. Two-thirds reported having only a month-to-month lease. As a result there was little housing stability. Nearly half (48%) of those surveyed had moved one or two times in the past five years, and over 20 percent had moved three or more times. There is no governmental agency at the city, county or state level, whose function it is to mediate private landlord-tenant disputes. An analysis of eviction cases filed in Miami-Dade County showed that the vast majority (75%) failed to even respond to eviction complaints in the complex court system. This inability to access the courts is of particular concern since a disproportionate number of evictions occur in the poorest city neighborhoods.