Rising Sea Levels and Gentrification in Little Haiti

In recent years, as sea levels have been increasing globally, the effects are being felt in Miami, particularly in the neighborhood of Little Haiti. While property investors are turning their attention away from the low-lying beach area and towards inland locations, the residents of Little Haiti are facing rising rents that are forcing them out of their homes. The situation has raised concerns about the impact of climate change on gentrification and the displacement of low-income communities.

Little Haiti, located five miles inland from Miami Beach, is known for its vibrant Haitian community and culture. The neighborhood has historically been a refuge for diverse and poor communities, thanks in part to racial segregation laws and forced relocations in the past. However, the proximity of Little Haiti to trendy bars and restaurants in nearby districts has made it an attractive target for developers. Entrepreneur Tony Cho, who previously developed parts of Wynwood, has plans for a $1 billion high-rise development called Magic City in Little Haiti.

The impact of these development plans is already being felt by local residents. Many businesses along the main road of Little Haiti have closed down due to rising rents. For example, Reina Cartagena, the owner of Adelita’s Cafe, says her rent has doubled in less than a year, and she is struggling to make ends meet. Similarly, housing activist Renita Holmes reports that her rent has increased from $1,200 to $1,800 per month in the past three years. The rising rents and the influx of luxury developments have led to concerns about gentrification and the displacement of the existing community.

One of the main attractions for developers in Little Haiti is its location on a limestone ridge that is about 18 feet above sea level, making it more resilient to rising sea levels compared to Miami Beach. As sea levels continue to rise, Miami Beach is at risk of flooding, while areas like Little Haiti are seen as safer from these climate change impacts. This has led to claims of “climate gentrification,” where wealthier individuals displace poorer communities from areas that are better equipped to withstand the effects of climate change.

However, not everyone agrees on the extent to which climate change is driving gentrification in Little Haiti. Prof William Butler of Florida State University suggests that it is too early to solely attribute the gentrification to climate change. He acknowledges that local residents have reported seeing advertisements for new properties emphasizing their resilience to floods and sea level rise, but he believes that other factors, such as the desirability of the higher ground, may also be driving the transformation.

While the Magic City development has set aside a $31 million fund for affordable housing and public benefits in Little Haiti, many residents remain opposed to the construction of skyscrapers in a neighborhood where most buildings do not exceed two stories. The fear is that these developments will fundamentally change the character and identity of Little Haiti.

In addition to the concerns about gentrification, residents have also noticed an increase in problems related to dampness and moisture. Renita Holmes, who has moved houses multiple times in search of more affordable and better-maintained homes, highlights issues such as toxicity levels, mold, and lack of proper drainage. She emphasizes the importance of building resilience in the face of climate change and protecting the community’s beauty and identity.

Renita Holmes has become an advocate for marginalized communities and housing rights, and she is determined to tell the stories of Little Haiti to prevent it from becoming a concrete city devoid of its culture and vibrancy. She is part of the Cleo Institute’s Empowering Women program, aimed at empowering individuals on the front line of the climate crisis.

The case of Little Haiti serves as a reminder of the complex and interconnected nature of climate change and its societal impacts. Rising sea levels not only pose physical threats but also contribute to the displacement of communities and exacerbate issues of inequality and gentrification. It is crucial for policymakers and developers to consider these social and environmental consequences when making decisions about development and urban planning in areas vulnerable to climate change. Ultimately, preserving the unique identities and livelihoods of communities like Little Haiti should be a priority as we adapt to a changing world.