Little Haiti Gentrification War: Business Owners Cry Racism As New Landlord Allegedly Forces Out Haitians

What’s News In This Story?

–A developer is forcing out Haitian owned businesses from two commercial strips that he recently bought near the intersection of NE 2nd Ave and 82 St in Miami.

–The developer, Thomas Conway has been accused of unfairly targeting Haitians and treating non-Haitians better. 

–Most of the businesses are on month-to-month leases and Florida law allows for landlords to end those type leases with 15 days notices.

–Some of the businesses have been open for decades, including a Haitian owned tuxedo store that has been in operation for 32 years. 

-Chronic road construction has also caused severe hardships for the businesses. One barbershop says that they have lost 60% of their customers over the last year due to the construction. 

–Haitian community activists are calling for public officials to intervene and provide support to the affected businesses. 

Little Haiti is about to get a whole lot whiter.

That’s if you believe dozens of Little Haiti business owners and community activists who are claiming that a real estate developer is forcing Haitians out of two commercial strips in a fast gentrifying area of Miami, while giving white owners better treatment.

The business strips are on the East and West side of NE 2nd Ave near the 82nd St intersection.

The buildings were recently purchased by Thomas Conway, a young real estate entrepreneur who has been active in the northern section of Little Haiti.

The buildings are full of dozens of business, ranging from a travel agency, to a bakery and a Metro PCS.

Most of the businesses are run by Haitians.

Over the past two months, local shop owners say that Conway has been trying to force them out.

Multiple owners claim that Conway has refused to accept their rent checks so he can get rid of them and court records obtained by the Miami Herald show that the new landlord has already started eviction proceedings on 13 of the 15 businesses at 8200 NE Second Ave. and 201 NE 82nd St.

Most of the businesses are on month to month leases and Florida law allows for landlords to end leases with only 15 days notice.

The situation has become so untenable that many of the business owners called a press conference on Thursday with the Haitian rights group Family Action Network Movement (FANM).

To add to to their misery, an ongoing construction project has ripped up parts of NE 2nd Ave for nearly a year and dramatically hurt business in the area.

The iconic Miami restaurant, Football Sandwich Shop has been closed for multiple months due to the same construction.

Marleine Bastien, the leader of FANM said that many business owners were angry that local authorities have not offered financial assistance to their struggling businesses.

“Some of them wonder, is this a way to get them out?,” Bastien asked during the press conference. “Because usually when businesses are impacted, they get some type of relief. But not these Haitian businesses.”

Bastien also said that Haitian businesses are facing discrimination because they were the only ones asked to leave by Conway.

Ramon Alvarez owns a barbershop on the strip of the westside of NE 2nd Ave.

Alvarez said that Conway lied to his face about what his intentions were about the future of the building and that the decision to force out his barbershop was racially motivated because of the Haitian staff he has.

“They see this as a black business,” Alvarez told RISE NEWS. “Everybody out. I don’t know, it’s scary.”

Alvarez said that Conway seemed very reasonable when the new landlord first approached him a few months ago after buying the property.

Alvarez said that Conway told him the plan was to fix up the building and put on a new roof.

Alvarez also said that Conway told him that the rent would gradually go up from the current $1,400 a month to $3,500 a month.

Alvarez said that he was ok with this new arrangement.

“I can manage it and If I can’t afford it one day I’m going to say, ‘Mr. Thomas, I got to go.'”

But Alvarez said that Conway changed his tune and even refused to accept a rent check.

Now, Alvarez said that he’s been told he is going to be evicted.

He’s not the only one.

“I’ve been eight years here,” Pierre Richard Maximillien, the owner of a travel agency said.  “The guy next door to me who sells tuxedos and marriage dresses has been there 32 years. It’s a lifetime.”

A few doors down from Alvarez’s barber shop, Lucia Garcia runs The Furtnitue Store.

Garcia attended the press conference in support of the Haitian owners and said that she felt like Conway was treating her business differently than the others.

Garcia is Hispanic.

“We have not received any threats,” Garcia told RISE NEWS. “We have not received any eviction notices. We have been given until June to leave, supposedly due to construction. But we have received very different treatment.”

Lina Hargrett, the owner of the Empty Apartment said that she just recently signed a year lease to stay in the same building where Alvarez and Garcia have their businesses.

Hargrett said that she had not been asked to leave the building and seemed unaware of the controversy that was swirling.

Hargrett has a light complexion.

Hargrett’s store and the Metro PCS are the only two businesses that seem unaffected by the moves.

Both have two year leases.

Conway refused to speak to a reporter from RISE NEWS when reached via phone on Thursday, and hung up.

“Unfortunately, I can’t take this call at the moment,” Conway said before hanging up. “I appreciate it.”

In 2015, Conway opened MADE At The Citadel, a well-known co-working space on NE 2nd Ave and 83rd St.

It was reported in 2017 that he intends to turn the building across the street from MADE At The Citadel into a food hall.

A rendering for that building, which is called The Citadel, is available online.

The Citadel used to house the Federal Reserve in Miami and got its name from, wait for it, an historic fort in Haiti.

Gary Louis has worked as a barber for over 15 years at the shop that Alvarez now owns.

He has to pay to keep his chair there and has stayed despite losing 60% of his business due to the road construction.

Louis said that he’s stayed because he was excited about the changes in the neighborhood and thought that he would prosper from them.

“The city hasn’t done anything for the Haitian community at all,” Louis said. “So now, something is brought to life where we’ve seen the city has finally taken care of the community. But now as I’m seeing it, it’s not being cleaned up for primarily the Haitian community. It’s just mainly for a new form of business that does not include the Haitian community at all.”


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About the Author
Rich Robinson is the CEO and publisher of Rise News. He is also a journalist and a native of Miami. Robinson graduated from the University of Alabama and can be followed on Twitter @RichRobMiami.
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