Evicting all 200 residents of the Hamilton on the Bay apartment tower in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood is a flashing red warning sign about who will be able to live in the city in the very near future.
Hamilton residents have been paying middle-class prices — $1,750 for a one-bedroom apartment, when Miami’s median price is $1,650, according to real estate site Zumper. This is not the scenario we know too well of a developer displacing low-income tenants to build expensive high-rises, a dire situation that still needs a concerted city and county effort.
But Miami needs its middle class, too, for a sustainable, healthy city. A glimpse of the water and a home in Miami’s core shouldn’t be out of reach for regular working people and retirees.
That’s why the decision by Aimco/AIR has such resonance. The Denver-based company recently bought the 28-story bayfront building and announced it was sending residents packing with just 60 days’ notice. Anyone who has tried to rent an apartment in Miami with some sort of proximity to downtown understands the fear that induces.
No matter what the tech bros say on Twitter about the easy availability of $600 apartments with water views — as investor Miami Jack Abraham asserted in his infamous, but now-deleted, Twitter thread — we know that’s just not reality. The apartment rental site RENTCafe puts the average apartment rent in the city at $1,768 in April — up 2.9 percent since last year, despite the pandemic. No doubt that price doesn’t include a water view.
So for the Hamilton residents being pushed out for renovations that had been ongoing since Hurricane Irma in 2017, the prospects look tough. Some of the building’s tenants have been there for a decade or more, and many are new parents or elderly or have conditions that complicate any move, one resident told Miami Herald reporter Rene Rodriguez. Where will they go in 60 days? How far from the city center will they have to move to find something they can afford?
For years, the Edgewater area has been gentrifying, though the Hamilton was considered a luxury building when Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, built it in 1984. The neighborhood is close to downtown and Wynwood, and it’s perched on the edge of Biscayne Bay. That makes it attractive to residents. And to developers.
“It’s a business decision, and they have rights as property owners,” Chris Zoller, broker associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty, told the Herald. “The tenants can find something. It’s not going to be as nice or on the water, but they’ve had it nice for a long time.”
All true. This private company is in the business of doing business.
But is this the kind of city we want? A place where lower- and middle-class residents increasingly have no place? It’s time for the city to start thinking creatively about how to give developers incentives to keep long-time residents in place whenever possible.
The Hamilton residents have a lawyer, now, and affordable-housing advocates have gotten involved. Miami Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has also stepped in, and the developer has offered discounted moving expenses and the possibility of moving into another building the company owns.
That’s helpful, but the larger problem of the city becoming increasingly unaffordable remains. And it’s getting worse. This week, more residents — at Paradise Park Mobile Home Park along the Miami River — are likely to be evicted for a developer. And just like the people in the Hamilton, they’re wondering: Where will we go?
The city needs to provide an answer more encouraging than a shrug.