Miami's Housing Crisis Spawns Shantytown

<p>A shantytown set up to protest Miami's housing crisis is winning over neighbors and has become a "warm community."</p>
January 17, 2007, 9am PST | Michael Dudley
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"With 16 huts cobbled together from plywood, discarded closet doors and cardboard, Umoja is a shantytown in the shadow of the biggest construction boom Miami has seen since the 1920s. Started in October by an advocate for low-income housing, it is part social protest and part social experiment, with nightly meetings where decisions on whether to evict people or how to split up chores are determined by consensus.

Most of the 40 residents said they had been sleeping on the streets before moving into Umoja's colorful shacks. The eyesore has become a warm community, with a resident poet entertaining regularly, and has won over some neighbors, including those who now bring by homemade sweet potato pies, despite previous complaints about trash and noise.

Umoja, which means unity in Swahili, is the brainchild of Max Rameau, 37, a stay-at-home father who selected the site, at NW 62nd Street and NW 17th Avenue, because Miami-Dade County razed a 62-unit low-income apartment building there in 2001 and never replaced it. The shantytown is based on a 1998 court ruling in which a federal district court judge said Miami could not criminalize homeless people for conducting 'life-sustaining acts' including eating, sleeping, lighting a fire and building temporary structures on public land if local shelters were filled.

With apartment vacancy rates at 1.7 percent, down from 4.7 percent three years ago, and rents rapidly rising amid gentrification of poor neighborhoods, a report in October by the Miami-Dade County planning department estimated that the area would need 294,200 new housing units by 2025, 42 percent of them for 'very low- or low-income households.'"

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Published on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 in The New York Times

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