August 1, 2018

Climate Gentrification and the Renaissance of Overtown Miami

Everyone has heard of the “G” word, gentrification. One more popular phrase is climate change, due to the rising sea levels. But another term, climate gentrification, is now being used to describe what is happening in neighborhoods around the world.

Climate gentrification is what happens when a neighborhood sees the influx of a new population, and a migration of the existing population, due to the land being at higher elevation, or at a lower risk for natural disasters. This systematic process over a period of time drives up property values.  Take for example Overtown. A district of Miami that has a rich and multifaceted past. Global warming concerns are dramatically altering this historic neighborhood. The average price per square foot for homes in Miami which sits six feet above sea level is $219. The average price per square foot for a home in Overtown which sits ten feet above sea level is only $3 less at $216.


This price for a neighborhood that the New York Times referred to as “downtrodden,” makes climate gentrification one of the most pressing concerns impacting the neighborhood. A poll done by Bendixen & Amandi with the Miami Herald real estate group The Jills, stated that 64% of buyers did not mention climate change as an “issue or concern” when shopping for houses.

General buyers may not be aware but developers are. Their awareness is causing a trend where housing prices increase directly in proportion to how shielded their investment may be from the effects of climate change. An article in Bloomberg written earlier this year identified Overtown as one of the latest cities to be affected by climate gentrification.

This concern is the latest in a string of controversial moving parts for the neighborhood. Last year the county approved the sale of nine publicly owned acres to the Beckham group. Following this, the county was slapped with a lawsuit by Bruce C Matheson, who also owns land in multiple areas of Miami including Overtown. The Beckham group then decided that the land actually would not work for the stadium they have planned.

Now the question is, what will be the use of the land that the Beckham group acquired for much less than the average per square foot? Could it have an alternate use that satisfies the business owners in the neighborhood, and the existing residents? Councilwoman Audrey Edmonson stated that the land is contaminated and needs to be developed.

If developed into housing, the prices will likely be unaffordable for the population that currently resides in the neighborhood. Many current residents live in impoverished conditions according to Keon Williams. Williams grew up in Overtown and is now the Assistant Director for Urban Philanthropies, an organization whose mission is to transform distressed urban communities through economic and community development activities.  

Urban Philanthropies is one of a few organizations that provide workshops to the community. The Cleo Institute, whose mission is to promote an informed and engaged public that supports climate action locally, regionally, and globally hosted a workshop in April of this year where the topic of climate gentrification was discussed.

Currently in the middle of the 2018 hurricane season, all Miami residents are hoping for an uneventful few months. Last year following hurricane Irma, Williams expressed that in addition to the gentrification concerns, Overtown residents after the storm had to deal with substandard living conditions while other neighborhoods did not. He cited non-working facilities not being fixed by landlords, and access to bottled water as problems.

These complications, compounded with the rising home prices, could increase the rate at which current residents move out of the area. This makes room only for those that want to be at a higher elevation, can afford to deal with these problems, and can afford the land, to move in.


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