Police waded through a crowd chanting “Shame! Shame!” and “The banks got a bailout! The people got sold out!” to evict three families from a low-income apartment complex in Miami’s Liberty City yesterday. Miami police also arrested a housing activist and a tenant for interfering with the evictions.
The buildings were sold in foreclosure last year, and the confrontation has become the latest battle by activists attempting to keep poor people in their homes during an unprecedented housing and economic crisis that has left Miami with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.
All the residents at 820 and 830 NW 70th Street face eviction. The property manager says it is a straightforward case of tenants not paying their rent. “This is a legal eviction process,” the manager, who declined to give his name, explained. Since taking over the property earlier this year, he said he hasn’t received payment from any of the tenants. “I can tell you from six months ago, no one has paid rent,” he said. “We try to do everything we can to make this place have a nice quality of life.”
The tenants claim they stopped paying sometime after January, when they received notices stating they were delinquent in rent for months they had already paid. Brandy Young showed an October statement alleging she owed $1,800 in back rent. She had only been renting the $450-a-month apartment since July at that point. “And I was all paid up then,” she said. The previous property manager, the tenants say, took payment, mostly in cash, and didn’t record it. Tenants also say their complaints about rat infestations, leaking pipes and mold have gone unanswered.
John T. Prahl, the lawyer for the previous owners, Secured Quest LLC, said creditors contacted him prior to foreclosure, but when he attempted to reach Secured Quest’s officers he never heard back from them, and hasn’t since. Secured Quest never showed up in court to oppose the July 2009 foreclosure proceedings, when JP Morgan Chase Bank sold the properties to one of its subsidiaries, Texas’ ECP Properties Inc., for $100. ECP did not return messages left with their law firm Holland and Knight. A spokeswoman for Chase in South Florida was attempting to find records showing Chase’s involvement with the properties before commenting.
Chase, one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies and the recipient of $25 billion in federal bailout money, has a precedent of moving tenants out after foreclosure. The same month Chase took ownership of the Miami buildings, it settled a lawsuit with the City of Oakland, Calif., for illegally evicting tenants from buildings acquired in foreclosure. A Chase spokesman told Bloomberg News, “We don’t have the capacity to be long-term landlords,” in reference to foreclosure evictions in another part of California.
Miami housing activist Max Rameau, of Take Back the Land, asserts the same thing is happening here. The bank wants to move people out of the buildings in order to sell them. “In the middle of a housing crisis, JP Morgan Chase is boarding up units in a low-income area, not because the tenants aren’t paying, but because they can’t be bothered to maintain the properties.”
Leroy Jones, with the Neighbors and Neighbors Association, explains that the tenants should have put their rent money in an escrow account as a buffer against eviction. “But they don’t know that,” he says. “People need to be educated about their rights.”
More than a dozen residents and activists gathered outside the buildings in the morning, chanting slogans and carrying signs, while six City of Miami police cars parked nearby to monitor them. The conflict escalated when Miami-Dade police officers with the Enforceable Writs unit arrived to serve the evictions. Rameau and at least three others stood in front of the first apartment as they approached. When the officers asked him to move, Rameau sat down instead. Police charged him with disobeying a lawful order. He was released later in the day. Rameau has been protesting evictions and foreclosures in Miami for at least two years.
Ashaundra Young, 20, was arrested minutes later after a police officer stated she swore at them and said, “We don’t have no place to go. We got kids,” and began a protest chant. She was charged with inciting a riot.
Watch video from the protest: