Friday, July 31, 2020
Marlene Quaroni - Florida Catholic
CORAL GABLES | As coronavirus cases surge in Miami-Dade County, many residents are facing eviction from their homes.
“We had to move from our Miami Beach apartment when the rent went up $300 and now we live in Aventura, where we pay $1,600 a month rent and we are running out of money,” said Marina, a parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Miami Beach.
Her recorded testimony on the affordable housing shortage was played during a drive-in rally held July 27, 2020 in the parking lot of Coral Gables Congregational Church. The rally was organized by PACT — People Acting for Community Together — whose goal is to hold public officials accountable, achieve systemic change and promote fairness, justice and democracy in the county.
Speakers, standing on a raised platform, addressed about 100 PACT members who sat in their cars and listened on their car radios. Another 600 listened online.
“During this time, we must be creative,” said Rev. Dr. Laurie Hafner, PACT president and senior pastor at Coral Gables Congregational Church. She noted that this was the first ever PACT drive-in rally to take place.
“We were already living in an unequal county before the pandemic. The cause of justice has not diminished. The situation of people on the margins has become more dire. How can you stay home if you can’t pay the rent?” Rev. Hafner asked.
Marina testified that she lost her job five months ago when the pandemic forced many businesses to shut down. Her husband, Jose, only returned to work a month ago. Although their two daughters are helping to pay the rent, it’s not enough, she said, and the family is facing calamity.
“I see new buildings going up all around, but the prices are unreachable,” said Marina. “We have gone through our savings. We are going through a trauma that deeply affects our mental health. We are human beings and have a right to live with dignity. As taxpayers we want the county to support affordable housing.”
But county government does not reflect the priorities of low-income people, Rev. Hafner said.
“Our county mayor wants to take out a $400 million bond issue for a new jail complex,” she said. “This is for the pre-trial detention center. Yes, conditions at the jail are deplorable, but how would you explain to voters that taxes need to be increased when so many are struggling financially because of the pandemic?”
Participants honked their car horns in agreement as she repeated PACT's slogans, “Let Justice Roll!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”
Miami Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava — who is running for county mayor — took part in the rally. She said that the county needs to invest in programs that would prevent crime and address critical needs, rather than new jails.
Steven Horsford, PACT vice-president and a parishioner at St. Monica Church in Miami Gardens, said Marina’s testimony on affordable housing was one of too many stories PACT hears, with Blacks and Hispanics suffering the most. Horsford laid out a plan to get to affordable housing by using the acronym PALM.
“P is for preserving existing affordable housing; A is for assisting with renters and owners who have lost income because of COVID-19; L is for land — we have to leverage vacant and county-owned land to appropriate for affordable housing; M is for money — we need to inject more money into construction of affordable housing.”
Horsford asked for more money for emergency rental assistance, noting that the county has set aside $10 million but more is needed. He also asked that the required notice for termination of month to month leases be raised from 15 to 30 days. In Miami and Miami Beach, landlords are mandated to give renters 30 days' notice, but in other parts of the county landlords are only required to give 15 days' notice.
“Fifteen days means the world to your neighbor when she’s trying to make sure that her family is not put out on the street,” he said. “Lastly, the mayor should finally fulfill the promise of the board of county commissioners to include a line item of $10 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”
He urged participants to send a template email, supplied in a handout, to their county commissioner and mayor asking that the immediate needs be fulfilled.
The lack of a community ID card was the last issue to be addressed. The discussion began with a testimonial about the difficulty of getting COVID-19 testing without an ID. About 250,000 people in Miami-Dade County don’t have a local ID, said Aaron Lauer, associate pastor at Coral Gables Congregational and co-chair of PACT's community identification committee.
“At this time, we should be encouraging people to get tested and guess what my friends, when people can’t get tested that affects me and you and all of us,” he said.
A Little Havana resident testified to the need for a local ID after an experience with COVID-19 testing.
“My name is Carlos and I am a parishioner at St. John Bosco Church,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago, my wife started to feel sick and we went to Marlins Stadium to get tested. As we drove up, signs said put your driver’s license on the dashboard. My wife doesn’t have a driver’s license or a state ID, she just has a passport. We went ahead and got the tests.”
Five days later he went online to get the results. Carlos got his, but because his wife didn’t have a driver’s license or Social Security number, she couldn’t get her results. His sister, who was very sick, also got tested, but since she doesn’t have a Florida ID, she also could not get her results.
“There are many people who may be sick but don’t know it and can’t find out because they don’t have a Florida ID,” Carlos said.
Two local officials voiced their opinions on the issues raised by PACT.
Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez III and Commissioner Levine-Cana both said they were in favor of a community ID.
“Yes!” Ramirez said. “I definitely want the community to have access to the services provided by the county.”
“I stand ready to fight for community IDs,” said Levine-Cana.
Father Juan Sosa, pastor of St. Joseph Church, closed the rally with a blessing.
“Despite the pandemic, we showed up for each other,” he said. “We must listen to one another to fight injustice.”