Community land trust, transitional housing for youth at-risk, what and who can make 'affordable' housing affordable
By Sofia Zuñiga
Today, Niklaus Marcellus Salvator is 29, studying Fine Arts in Los Angeles. Before starting this new chapter in his life, Nicklaus had to spend three years living on the streets in Miami. His family was intolerant of his sexual orientation, and Niklaus had to leave his family home being a teen.
His life would be different if one day he didn’t meet Adrian Madriz, Executive Director of SMASH.MIAMI, at a bar where Adrian was hosting a game night to raise funds to build a homeless shelter. Adrian spoke to Niklaus about their work, and Niklaus joined in the fight for equitable, affordable housing for all.
Niklaus began interning with SMASH and was soon leading the organization’s LGBTQ+ Committee. Though Niklaus no longer lives in Miami, he still works with SMASH as part of the Advisory Board.
Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH) is an organization that works with inner-city Miami residents affected by gentrification -- climatic or political -- helping them take control of their own communities.
SMASH first partnered with Liberty City residents and other grassroots organizations to take legal action against slumlords taking advantage of their tenants. The building the tenants were living in was so neglected by the owners, it was unliveable, unsalvageable and ultimately demolished. This led to the litigation of the slumlord and his property was given to the City of Miami.
On the heels of this success, SMASH formed a Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that manages land for the benefit of their community. Niklaus describes a Community Land Trust like an ant colony, “everyone looks after each other; if something happened, then everyone would stop and go check on the person to help. They don’t leave anyone behind.”
One of SMASH’s projects includes an LGBTQ+ Homeless Youth Transitional Housing Facility. It will be an eco-friendly three-unit building which will include one transitional housing unit, one affordable ownership unit and one market rate ownership unit. The affordable ownership unit will be an 800 sq ft apartment for residents affected by slum conditions. The transitional housing will accommodate four LGBTQ+ homeless youth at a time, with two bedrooms and one bathroom.
In the United States, LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers. And, while LGBTQ+ youth make up only 7% of the total U.S. youth population, they comprise an astounding 40% of all young people experiencing homelessness in the country, according to a report by UCLA.
“A lot of the homeless people out there, they're not homeless because they're on drugs, or because they just wanted to be homeless. A lot of them had good paying jobs and a very nice place to stay, but because of the pandemic or because of other things like identity theft, they’re losing their jobs. That's where they end up,” explained Niklaus.
While there are homeless shelters, they are functioning at full capacity, and there are still homeless people on the streets who need help. With SMASH’s Transitional Housing Facility, young homeless people will receive help to stabilize their lives and will then leave the facility in a few months when they have the resources to take care of themselves. Niklaus explains that they put a time limit in place to prevent anyone from taking advantage of the system, as he emphasizes, “help yourself so that in the future you can help somebody else.”
The building is being developed through a Community Land Trust in Liberty City. Through this project, they hope to prove the effectiveness of Community Land Trusts and establish more. When power and responsibility of land and home are held by the people living there, slumlords can’t function, and residents forge a stronger sense of community. The building will provide permanent affordable housing for two families affected by slumlords and also mold countless LGBTQ+ homeless youth into community leaders.
Niklaus said “Our dream is to have other organizations, corporations and businesses look at us and be like, ‘Wow, that actually makes sense.”
When Niklaus had his own trailer, he would open it to the homeless on Fridays and weekends so they would have a place to shower, eat and sleep.
"If you take one toothpick and you bend it, it breaks, right? But what happens when you take a whole and try to break all of them simultaneously? It's impossible, and the same thing about people. If everybody came together as one to fight for the rights of all people, this country would be unstoppable, this country would be united."
Although The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have more than 1,200 units of new affordable housing planned in Little Havana, Little River, Overtown and Flagami, there is a gap of 121,820 units that are affordable and available to renters.
According to Miami Homes For All, 30% of all households in Miami-Dade County earn less than $35,000 per year and pay more than they can afford for their rent or mortgage. Those struggling to pay for their housing are statistically more likely to be Black and Hispanic.
The pandemic exacerbated housing insecurity. Many buyers from pricier cities like New York or San Francisco have been moving to Miami, driving demand and causing a spike in real estate prices. The average rent in August was up 27% from the same time last year.
Another driver for the housing market is the increasing climate resilience investments in a low-income community that make the area more desirable, raising rents to the point where low-income households are priced out.
Professor David Kelly from the University of Miami explains to Impact.Edition that a two-pronged approach is necessary for this situation. All the focus cannot be on climate resilience even though it is a prominent issue.
"In addition, the government should increase the availability of affordable housing so that people could have more living options, and landlords would not raise the rent as easily," states Professor Kelly.
He also recommended amending zoning restrictions to allow for more density in neighborhoods where people who need affordable housing already live. Right now, there are extremely long waitlists for affordable housing units, and there is simply not enough for everyone in need.
"With more affordable housing policies, tax credits, and streamlining permit reviews, then maybe we can keep the affordability crisis from getting out of control, and at the same time, make the county more resilient,” says Professor Kelly. “Anything you can do to increase the supply of affordable housing would be beneficial."
Active cooperation between governing bodies and private sector could drive climate resilience investments and grassroots organizations that can help reverse the damage that’s already been done.
Professor Kelly adds: "You have to unite and form organizations to increase your voices and make yourself heard to be able to compete against one and loud voice."