Lead Homeless activists in Miami, fed up with the city for not providing enough affordable housing due to years of mismanaged funds, built a shantytown last month in the Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood on an acre of public land. WMNF’s Dawn Morgan has more.

Story (clip – “If you’re not going to provide housing for the people, then the people have the right to take over the land for themselves.� .9 sec.)

On October 23, in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, a handful of folks set up tents on a public lot about an acre in size. They named this shantytown Umoja Village, which is Swahili for “unity.�

(clip – “You homeless? You got no where to go? You need some clothes, you need some help? Come. We got love. Love is what gave us the answer and we got it.� .10)

Because construction of low income and affordable housing in Miami has been at a standstill for years, Max Rameau, together with other groups he brought together, decided it was time for the poor, especially the black community, to take care of themselves and reclaim land that had once been rundown, low income apartments that were demolished and never replaced.

(clip – Max.govt biggest enemy. 7 sec. The local govt, instead of being an ally, have been one of our biggest enemies.�)

(clip - Max.Miami-dade reducing housing. 27 sec. Have both been v. reluctant to build affordable housing. In crisis, instead of building more, reduced number of units. Defies logic.�)

Those who live in Umoja do so legally, based on the Pottinger Settlement, a 1998 Miami court case named after a homeless man who sued the city of Miami in violation of his civil liberties. The settlement made life-sustaining misdemeanors, such as sleeping, eating and nudity related to urinating, defecating and bathing, legal public acts when affordable housing is unavailable.

Over the coming weeks, the organizers and residents of Umoja, along with volunteers from local colleges and activist groups, built temporary wooden shelters 2 mattresses wide to replace the tents. There is also a community kitchen, shower, portable bathrooms and a vegetable garden. Now just over a month later, Umoja Village is at full capacity with about 35 full time residents. They don’t have running water or electricity, although the neighbors have been known to throw an extension cord over the fence.

The patchwork shantytown was stitched together after years of meetings, lobbying and protests. Again organizer Max Rameau.

(clip – Max.did everything we could. 30 sec. “We did everything we could, created proposals, lobbied, etc. To max impact, all black groups, middle class grps, none of it seemed to work .Seemed completely oblivious to our wants and needs.�)

The city of Miami and county of Miami-Dade were caught in a funds mismanagement scandal that prevented construction of affordable housing.

The Miami Herald reported in July that the Miami-Dade Housing Agency pledged more than $87 million to construct 72 developments for the poor and elderly, totaling 8,300 new homes. But only one fifth of the projects funded between 2003 and 2005 have been completed. Some of the units built were even sold for profit right under the nose of the Housing Agency.

(clip – Max.Miami Herald Series Reveals 40 sec. “Showed how 10’s of Millions was diverted to give to millionaire developers. Created public outrage that didn’t exist before. We feel some political space was won and gained there. And we needed to do something with it.�)

Rameau, head of the Center for Pan-African Development, knew that it was time to act fast. Together with the individuals and coalition of agencies he had been working with for years, they began putting up tents. Rameau say that Umoja Village is not a stunt or an act of protest, but the people’s answer to consistent failure by the system. Umoja Village is the people’s solution to years of being told that change can’t happen over night and they are no longer looking for help from the city. The only concern organizers have with the government is that it will try to shut Umoja and future shantytowns down. When asked by the city manager’s office for their demands, Rameau said he only wanted his community to be left alone.

(clip let us do what they have not done.� .9)

With special thanks to Kelly Benjamin for providing the sound from Miami, this is Dawn Morgan reporting for WMNF News.

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