Miami scraps plans to evict Allapattah library for housing after students speak out

·3 min read

One of Miami’s oldest library branches is expected to have a new home in a proposed affordable housing project in the same Allapattah location after high school students rallied to save their community hub from displacement.

The library could have been evicted under a plan to build at least 150 workforce or affordable apartment units on the site at 1799 NW 35th St. But the potential of losing the branch, which had no future home identified, sparked outcry from the community, prompting Miami commissioners on Thursday to place a new condition on the redevelopment: The housing project must have a library on the first floor.

City administrators are now expected to negotiate a lease with the nonprofit housing developer, the Saint James Community Development Corp., to include a first-floor library in the housing project. The requirement was approved after activists, including several high schoolers and recent graduates, advocated to keep the library on the city-owned land where it currently stands.

“I was honestly very surprised,” Chelsea Hercules, an 18-year-old Jackson High grad, said after the vote. She told commissioners the ability to complete schoolwork at the library helped her graduate early. “We spoke up, and it’s great that they listened to us.”

From left, Miami-Dade County students Fernando Salgado, Jayla Cannon, Jose Arriaza and Elianyer Navarro stand in front of the Allapattah Branch Library on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, to protest the planned closing of the branch. After high school students and grads rallied to save their community hub from displacement, Miami commissioners on June 10 voted to require that a new Allapattah housing project build space for a library on the first floor, keeping a library near Miami Jackson Senior High.
From left, Miami-Dade County students Fernando Salgado, Jayla Cannon, Jose Arriaza and Elianyer Navarro stand in front of the Allapattah Branch Library on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, to protest the planned closing of the branch. After high school students and grads rallied to save their community hub from displacement, Miami commissioners on June 10 voted to require that a new Allapattah housing project build space for a library on the first floor, keeping a library near Miami Jackson Senior High.

The city will also look for space nearby to temporarily house a library during construction so there is no interruption in service.

“You’ll always have a place to go,” said Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla, who sponsored the resolution and whose district includes Allapattah. He thanked the students for their activism.

Situated across from Miami Jackson Senior High School, the current library is a community hub beloved by students and residents who rely on the branch’s resources to use the internet, print and do homework. While several activists acknowledged the need for more affordable housing in a city where the cost of living is high, they said it shouldn’t come at the cost of a library.

“I don’t want to choose between the new building and a library,” said Jayla Cannon, 17.

In September, commissioners unanimously voted to terminate the rent-free lease with the Miami-Dade County library system for use of the land. The deal had been in place for decades. On Thursday, Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes apologized to the students who came to City Hall, telling them he did not realize the impact of the vote at the time.

“I want to apologize that that went through us. It was the time of COVID and all of that, and I am guilty of not being more careful in reading the ordinance,” he said. “If I had caught it, as an ex-teacher, I would’ve objected immediately.”