As the Bush administration unveiled a publicly-financed plan to "save" mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, local residents at a town hall forum in Miami were calling for criminal prosecutions of the loan-shark mortgage brokers and investment firms that profited from poor people’s housing despair.
It would be hard to think of a better place to hold a public forum on the housing crisis and and sustainable development than Overtown, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Miami, Fla. While Overtown is just minutes from downtown geographically-speaking, it’s worlds apart economically and culturally.
On Saturday, The Lyric Theater was host to the second of the five part nationally broadcast town hall series,. Hundreds of community members gathered to talk about how foreclosures, bad loans and gentrification had impacted their city– and their lives — and what could be done about it in a town hall forum dubbed, "Magic City; Hard Times."
Miami is widely known as for the national housing crisis. "Miami’s the canary in the coal mine of our economy," Gihan Perera, Executive Director of the Miami Workers Center told the engaged crowd. "In terms of rich vs. poor, uneven development, the impact of global trade and immigration: Miami is the cutting edge," Perera added.
And the Lyric Theater, once at the heart of what was called the Black Broadway, sits right where that edge cuts. Over-shadowed now, literally, by the vast condominium skyscrapers rising over downtown, the Lyric, founded in 1915 by a wealthy businessman (who was part of a large middle-class Black Miami community in the first half of the 20th century,) was almost destroyed in the 1960s when developers built a highway through these parts. From "the Harlem of the South," the area became, "Overtown," a community the road drove over – and into destitution.
Today, the Lyric survives thanks to money from the local redevelopment council, but the neighbors are worried that "development" for others will steal the last land they have.
"You can understand why gentrification’s a threat," Denise Perry of Power U – a community empowerment project based in Overtown, one of the Live From Main Street panelists told me after the event. "In the 1960s developers had a choice whether to build the road near the water, nearer downtown, or smack through a thriving black community – and they chose the last."