Little Haiti Leader's Listening Session

Little Haiti Leadership Listening Session

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

This listening session was held at the Lemon City Library in Little Haiti. The goal of this meeting was to get feedback from residents and community leaders on the issues that they feel are the most urgent in their neighborhoods, related to the changing climate. The event was facilitated by CLEO and Nancy Metayer; and was part of the 10 Days of Connections event, that ran between May 1 and 10th. In attendance were artists, community organizers, nonprofit leaders representation from Commissioner Edmonson’s office, the library manager and CLEO staff.

The main topics brought up and discussed were: Climate Gentrification, Health and Communication.

Gentrification

Gentrification has a historical context, linked to the ridge that runs through Miami. The ridge passes through Little Haiti and many other neighborhoods. The ridge is the highest point above sea level in the area, with everything getting lower toward the coast to the east and the Everglades to the west. That area was primarily considered undesirable, as most affluent residents settled by the water. Black and brown residents settled in the areas closer to the ridge, on high ground. As sea level rise has begun to dominate the conversation in Miami, it is believed that developers have caught on and have been slowly moving old residents out, to make room for new, more expensive developments near the ridge, in what used to be undesirable land. While for some people the notion of climate gentrification is a new term, it isbelieved that some developers have been planning ahead for some time. Some of the developers’ tactics have been considered aggressive. Offering people a lump sum for their homes, well below what market value really is. Many residents have taken the deals offered, without understanding the full context. Only to realize after the fact that their home was selling for a much higher price than they were paid. Forcing them to move much further away as the sum paid is not nearly enough to buy a better home nearby. This lack of knowledge creates vulnerability.

-      There is a failure to understand just how many people are really vulnerable

-      There is a critical need to educate homeowners.

-      We must sound the alarm in other neighboring areas to prevent similar gentrification

-      People need to start asking why this is happening?

-      The overall message to homeowners should be “do not sell”.

One reason why it has been easier to convince homeowners to sell, is in part because of this notion of living in a “bad neighborhood”. Over the years, and some believe this was intentional; there has been neglect on part of the city in these areas. For example, there was very little enforcement for many years on cutting down trees. This had lead to parts of Little Haiti being somewhat treeless; contributing to the neighborhood’s look and feel. This also reduced property values, making it easy for developers to come in with predatory methods and gentrify the area.

-      This discussion on gentrification led to notion of one’s “sense of place”.

-      Creating a better place, making it yours NOW, not waiting till others move in

-      Clean your own space. Take care of your own space.

-      This would have a huge impact on not only property values, but on the community in general. If everyone took ownership of their space, it would create a positive domino effect, effectively slowing down gentrification, while building community pride and unity.

-      This movement needs to be led by community residents themselves, IN PARTNERSHIP with the government, to encourage these changes.

-      There must be more education and resources from local government to jumpstart the process.

-      We need to get the younger generations involved in the process.

For example, free trees initiative, encouraging people to plant more trees. People need help from the youth as well. Many elderly cannot do this without assistance. People need to hold government accountable, but at the same time, we need to encourage each other and work together. Within the climate change and gentrification conversation, the notion of food scarcity was brought up. Once upon a time, there were more fruit trees in the area (again linking back to the lack of enforcement many years ago), and people likely grew more of their food in small personal gardens. All of these issues compound other climate related issues, such as heat.

 Health

Health was also a huge topic in the climate change discussion. With hotter longer summers, many residents in Little Haiti depend on walking and public transportation to get around. Heat becomes a very big problem. These residents are exposed to extreme weather a lot more than those who can afford to drive. Residents with respiratory illnesses or health conditions are also more vulnerable to extreme heat. The issue of the trees came up again, as trees create shade, act as sound barriers, help beautify and cool down areas. The benefits of trees in urban areas cannot be underestimated. Not to mention they absorb CO2. With a changing climate we are seeing more humidity. Humidity and heat will bring more vector-borne diseases such as Zika, to these neighborhoods. Linking back to keeping a clean space, mosquitos like to breed in piles of debris. This has to be a part of the education campaign. Within the health discussion, the issue of mental health was brought up. Linking back to people’s homes, there are some mental health issues with some residents, connected to hoarding, creating these hectic environments. People need assistance with this. In addition, following extreme weather events, when people lose their homes, or have damaged property, recovery can be very difficult and have lasting effects on communities.

-      There must be more education on this topic so people understand the importance of trees; and health benefits of keeping a clean space.

-      There must be a clear list of all the vulnerable residents in the neighborhood

-      Environmental campaigns that target all residents, must be carried out to tackle issues like Zika, heat, home improvements.

Communication

The connecting factor in all these topics, is the notion of communication. At the root of tackling all these community issues, we must consider how/when/to whom our messages are communicated.

-      Messages and campaigns must be shared in churches; on local Haitian radio stations, barbershops (and other known community hangouts) and be brought door-to-door.

-      Cell phone campaigns can also be successful for residents that do not have access to TV or internet.

-      Messages have to be appropriately targeted: Kids and adolescents must be targets in the campaigns. They can be effective communicators, bringing these issues to their parents

-      We must partner with citizens and organizations that are TRUSTED in the community. Building trust takes time, effort, presence.

-      Connect the dots for the residents; help them understand and feel included in the conversation, rather than outsiders

-      Overcome the language barrier! A big problem with city/county/organizations is the lack of documentation in Haitian Kreyol. Accessibility does not only mean by which means of communications, but what language as well.

-      Organizers must think profoundly about how they deliver their message. The language they use and their methods: do not preach. Talk with people. We must think outside the box. Workshops must be more hands-on, bringing in a wider range of activities.

“We have to become leaders of our own space”

- Latonda James

“The power is in the hands of the people”

- Bereatha Howard