Residents of Little Haiti and Liberty City are concerned about the fast-moving changes in their neighborhoods, saying they’re fighting to keep their cultures alive.
Berwin Renna, 43, is a self-described activist and a Little Haiti resident for over 25 years.
“I started seeing the first signs of gentrification in Little Haiti about 12 to 13 years ago,” he said. “They started off with a slow implementation of different types of businesses to test the waters and to see if the neighborhood was a perfect fit for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
He said newcomers are restructuring, renaming and rebranding – all without any concern for the impacts of the people who built a life and legacy there.
“I think there should be some laws to protect the people who call an area or community home for so many years and I don’t think our city is doing enough to preserve the uniqueness of Little Haiti,” he said.
Moving isn’t always easy or practical, he said.
“It’s tough for residents because there’s many of them that have been in Little Haiti so long, that’s all they’re accustomed to,” he said.
Renna said he understands why it’s happening.
“After looking at what developers did with Midtown and Wynwood, I feel as if Little Haiti was on the progressive scope on them moving upwards,” he said. “I think these plans are thought of 30 to 40 years in advance to give them time to take shape because I don’t believe they think of these ideas out of nowhere and instantly follow suit.”
He added that residents should’ve been more aware of what was going on.
“The residents of Little Haiti should come together and make their presence felt through capital,” he said. “We should’ve been buying and holding on to more assets and I don’t think collectively we understood the magnitude of what was going on because we would’ve moved with way more of an urgency.”
Hoppy Duroseau, 35, is also a long-time resident of the neighborhood. Duroseau has been a real estate agent for 10 years and says most of his clients are in Little Haiti.
“I don’t mind gentrification, but I feel as if it’s impacting our people due to lack of knowledge, and I think it’s best if they were able to understand the situation,” he said. “It’s getting rid of our people in the community, and I’m afraid that soon enough the neighborhood is going to change completely into ‘Magic City’ instead of Little Haiti.”
Duroseau also compared Little Haiti to the stock market.
“People come to Little Haiti and say there’s a lot of shootings and violence which brings down the value of properties,” he said. “Then, they buy the properties at a lower price, remodel and fix them, and sell them to outsiders, which is unethical but legal.”
Sam Latimore, 75, has been an on-and-off resident of Liberty City for about 60 years. He’s currently the president of the Charles Hadley Neighborhood Association.
Latimore said he’s witnessed houses in the Liberty City area that normally would be rented out to people of color are now being rented out to people of other cultures.
“There is a dramatic difference in the people who comprise that area of the community now,” he said. “The same kind of changes you see in Little Haiti, you’re going to see in Liberty City, Brownsville and Allapattah.”