It’s easy to forget that beyond the sleek modern apartment buildings like The One and Identity are smaller residential homes, where families have lived for years. While student residents have parties and zoom down the roads, Sweetwater resident Marianna Blanco navigates how to raise her two young children amongst a now booming “college city.”
“It’s terrible living amongst students,” says Blanco. “They park wherever they want, party 24/7 and don’t respect the fact they live around working families.”
According to the U.S. Census, in 2020 Sweetwater’s population increased to 19,363 people. In 2010 the population was about 13,500, showing about a 44% increase in population.
It’s a time-old problem; a big school, bringing in young people and changing the atmosphere of the community. But why does it matter more than just a few parties and speeding tickets? I spoke to the residents living smack in the middle of these apartments, and listened to their experiences.
Blanco has lived in Sweetwater for four years with her sweet dog and two children, a soon-to-be 12 year old boy and her daughter who just turned 10 years old. While raising two children can be considered a challenge already, she fears for her child’s safety with what she calls “irresponsible driving” around these residential houses.
“They are so irresponsible while driving, they peel into the streets like it’s the expressway without looking if there are kids walking around,” says Blanco, while watching the Ohio State game that she had on in the background. “It’s hard being a mother of young kids, and seeing how [students] around here act, fearing for my children when they eventually have to go to college as well.”
Another mother, Angelly Valverde, a Sweetwater resident of 15 years, agrees. Valverde was out with her child when I ran into her and wasted no time telling me exactly how crazy the students are here, and how unsafe she feels.
“They throw things from the balconies,” says Valverde. “Empty bottles, condoms, shoes; it’s crazy.”
Berta Brenez, has lived in Sweetwater for almost 40 years with her husband and sister Irma Brenez. The quintessential example of the sweet neighbor, offering me water and welcoming me into their home like I was one of their own, is in their blood. They express how the community has definitely changed.
“Before these apartments were constructed it was calm, you could leave your doors and windows open while you slept,” says Irma. “Now you can’t. There are so many people who have moved here that it’s become a disaster.
The Brenez sisters have seen students leave dog feces out on their lawns and take their parking spaces, causing trouble with their landlords.
“They only let us have one parking spot per resident, so when students can’t find parking and park in ours, we end up having no parking as well,” Berta said.
While rowdy neighbors can be considered one issue, on top of these disturbances, the rent for residents has at least doubled, according to residents. The median range from 2017-2021 is $1,456.
However the plans for student housing expansion have not stopped, with lots being bought near these homes. And while many residents refuse to sell, the quality of life hasd worsened.
The only hope Blanco says she has is that hopefully when this group of students graduate, the new class will be better. But she isn’t holding her breath. She claims the city is embracing these students.
“It is a generational problem,” says Blanco. “The City of Sweetwater does very little for us. “[Residents] are saying that this whole area is going to disappear because they are planning on building more here.”
And their fears are in some cases justified. Adam America Real Estate and JW Capital Management are building a 22-story, U-shaped building on Seventhth Street. Costing 147 million dollars to construct, The project will have 932 units and 15,442 square feet. It is planned to be completed by mid-2024 according to a release by the management. This comes on the heels of Identity opening in 2019 and Lapis opening this year.
This may certainly be good news to FIU students, who are in the middle of a housing crisis of their own, with thousands displaced because there is a lack of dorms in FIU.
However, where are these residents expected to go or how they are expected to raise their children safely, when their houses are being surrounded by huge apartment buildings. Threatening to reshape the way Sweetwater looks, whether they like it or not.
“Supposedly since the city has a free lot near where they took down the parking lot, they mean to knock down these rows of houses and forget about the community,” says Blanco. “Their plan is to keep constructing for students and as for the residents, we can figure it out for ourselves and find somewhere else to live.”
The separation between student and resident is clear when crossing SW 109th Avenue. On one side, there’s a sleek new building 13 stories high for students to live “comfortably” after paying an arm and a leg to get a room. And on the other is tiny houses with old men on the porch listening to music or mothers taking their children out.