In a Shanty Town outside of… Downtown Miami?

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Speaking of the spiralling cost of Miami real estate, has anyone else out there been following the Take Back the Land campaign? On a city-owned lot at the corner of Northwest 62nd Street and 17th Avenue, activists and homeless people have come together in a protest/community dubbed Umoja Village. The brainchild of activist Max Rameau, Umoja Village, according to a recent op-ed piece in the Miami Herald, consists of “32 makeshift homes — wooden pallets covered with painted cardboard — filled to capacity with 40 residents, including a family with an eight-week-old baby. There’s even a waiting list.”

This begs the questions: How bad off do you have to be to put yourself on a waiting list to live in a shanty town? And what kind of operation is Miami running where residents would prefer to live on a bunch of pallets and beat up couches rather than anything that the city can provide?

Part of the point of Umoja is to draw attention to the failure of Miami’s city government to provide affordable housing. The affordable housing crisis (highlighted in the Herald’s House of Lies series last summer) has been abetted by the city’s mismanagement of funds and destruction of 500 units of public housing between 1998 and 2000. These public housing units have yet to be replaced, even as luxury developments have boomed throughout Miami-Dade. Take Back The Land hopes to make this point all the more effectively in the media spotlight that will come with Miami’s hosting of the Superbowl from Jan. 29 to Feb. 3rd.

Just this week, Take Back the Land won a major political victory when the City Commission voted to table an ordinance that would have given Miami Police the right to evict homeless people from city owned vacant land.

It’s disturbing, effective and I gotta say I’m not quite sure what to make of it all, but I’m fascinated and wondering what anyone else thinks.

5 Comments so far

  1. Blaine Zuver (unregistered) on January 9th, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

    This is what I think. All US cities have similar encampments. Miami is different from other US cities in that it has a labor SHORTAGE. Perhaps small company owners should go to Umoja to offer residents jobs – to help them out of their predictiment.


  2. Tanya (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

    I actually went to Umoja yesterday to check it out and do video interviews of some residents. I agree that these problems exist in all major cities and yes, decent paying jobs should be available. Here at Umoja and in fact many “homeless” people do have jobs…this is where other societal problems and injustices come into play such as … AFFORDABLE HOUSING…the bane of Miami-Dade government right now- and the blaring point of Umoja shantytown. As Max told me yesterday, there is a waiting list for Umoja residency, not because people want to live there, but because there is a need.


  3. Mark (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

    What an inspiring campaign! It’s been more than 20 years since anything like that has happened where I live, Denver. Back in ’88, a courageous woman named Dorothy King organized others to take over vacant buildings, was arrested several times and shamed the city, for a while:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE5DA1630F930A15753C1A96E948260

    My support, prayers and thoughts go out to all those at the Umoja Village. Connecting back to the Black Seminole resistance of the 19th Century, the Haitian indpendence movement of the 18th Century, maybe this is the spark of a new resistance against Capital and racism. Like their counterparts in Brazil (MST), I hope to see more people join Umoja whether in solidarity or self-interest.


  4. Steve C (unregistered) on January 11th, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

    Local Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones wanted to evict shanty-town. Much bad publicity and media circus atmosphere is slowing her down. Instead of recomending education and training she spends her time giving taxpayer money to her family and her supporters. Never too early to campaign.

    Maybe Max will run against her?


  5. Bill (unregistered) on January 26th, 2007 @ 8:02 pm

    I just saw the story on National TV. Just figure that if you have to live in a tent or shanty, maybe it should be at A REALLY NICE TENT. I would like to DONATE an authentic Native American type tee pee. To be fair….the residents could have a raffle to see who gets it.
    This might sound a little crazy at first…but this type of tee pee is attractive, large and functional.
    Who should I contact?



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