A report by Tim Padgett for WLRN.
Gentrification is coming to Little Haiti faster than in any community in Miami – and Haitian-owned businesses are getting pushed out as a result.
So Haitian community leaders met at one abandoned shop Thursday morning to call for a Little Haiti economic renaissance.
Among them was Schiller Sanon-Jules. For the past six years, Sanon-Jules has owned the Little Haiti Thrift and Gift Store at Northeast 59th Street and Second Avenue. Last year the Miami New Times ranked it the best thrift shop in Miami.
But Sanon-Jules is closing it. He blames the fact that he city-supported Little Haiti Marketplace next door has not generated enough commercial traffic. And that has left businesses like his vulnerable to gentrification, which pushed up Little Haiti rents as much as 50 percent last year.
“We wanted to be part of the well-being of the Haitian community – and it didn’t happen,” Sanon-Jules said. “The Marketplace, they’re still struggling to find their identity, [and] gentrification is taking over what we as a people rightfully own. We have failed to do what we were supposed to do.”
To fix that, Sanon-Jules and other Haitian business and civic leaders gathered at his shuttered shop to announce a new campaign. Part of its aim is to make the Little Haiti Marketplace a more viable economic force.
“We are not trying to fight gentrification; we are trying to survive it,” said Martin Nandy – also known as Captain Haiti (he dutifully wore his costume for the media event) – who heads the KeepingItHaitian Vendors Association.
“We’re going to establish partnerships with the gentrifiers, the developers, the investors coming to Little Haiti – because I think they are looking to respect the Haitian culture.”
Nandy and other Haitian-Americans also cite environmental gentrification as a key factor. Developers like Little Haiti because it is at a higher elevation and less vulnerable to sea-level rise and flooding than other areas of Miami.