Ahh, sunny Miami! The perfect city for a tropical getaway, internationally know as the party city, nice beaches, hot bodies and fast cars. That is always the first impression you will get out of it, right? Miami goes deep, in history and diversification. In 2018, Miami was ranked as the third-richest city in the US and, eight-richest city in the world in terms of purchasing power. How comes that in a city so “rich” housing stills a struggle for some?
I gave myself the mission to reach out to Adrian Madriz, founder of SMASH, one of the few organizations in Miami working towards ending slumlords and making housing affordable. I personally can tell you how hard it is to find affordable housing in Miami, as someone who had to pick 3 jobs to make ends meet. Miami is a city full of opportunities if you are wealthy, otherwise, good luck fighting the inequality that comes with this Vice City. While jobs do not match our cost of life, there are still heroes like Adrian helping those who needs (programs like SMASH) the most. If you are not a native resident of Miami (or if you are), I invite you to learn about SMASH, what do they focus on and, what you can do to help them and the communities they impact.
Q: Who are the founders of S.M.A.S.H.?
A: SMASH (Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing) started in 2016 founded by me (Adrian Madriz) and Berlinda Dixon both residents of Overtown, in collaboration with Porgie “Gigi” Town, Sharice Taylor, Trenise Bryant and other residents of Liberty City.
Q: What does SMASH stand as an organization?
A: SMASH is a non-profit organization standing up to slumlords that are taking advantage of the neighborhoods. SMASH dedicates to create a new future for our residents, where they can control the land and their destiny. The majority of the people we reach out to live in non-affordable housing, in deplorable conditions. The majority of these slumlords who overcharged for a residence, do not take into consideration the fact that their residents are living with rats, mold, and many other unhealthy conditions. Some of the tenants are afraid to stand against their landlord fearing an increase in their rent, which cannot be repaid, ending up in eviction.
As the city (Miami) is growing, most of these landlords take advantage of gentrification to raise their rents, threatening the community to give up and leave. It is unimaginable that we have this problem in a city as forward as Miami.
Q: How do you recruit the people working with you?
A: We create a Membership Model where we get to vote who gets inaugurated as part of the organization and, what their focus be. All of our active members are part of the community that we are helping to develop. Sometimes recruiting becomes a little challenging because the residents fear to get in trouble if they join the organization. For example, in Gigi’s case, she was reluctant to be involved in the campaign for fear of repercussions from her slumlord. But with time, and many conversations that focused on the collective need, even residents like Gigi became to be part of the campaign, and through our efforts, in partnership with other grassroots organizations, we were able to take legal action against her slumlord and, have their property placed under the City’s control.
Q: What has been the most challenging moment within the organization?
A: I would say that the biggest challenge of all was self-teaching myself every technical aspect. I have learned on my journey Property Development, everything that has to do with the law aspect of it, financial planning, infrastructure, everything technical that is used to drive the organization forward. Sometimes we encounter ourselves with land that has already plenty of code violations, so we need to prepare ourselves on how to flip that code violation to be able to start the project. Slumlords would never make it easy, we have to be prepared.
Q: What does the demographic of the people you get to help looks like?
A: We focus on the community of Liberty City, Miami, Florida. We help a demographic of small families from different ethnicity but, the majority of them are Black and Brown families.
Q: How can someone in need apply to SMASH?
A: Unfortunately we are not a program where anyone can apply for. However, we direct those in need to different organizations, giving them the tools to fight homelessness.
Q: How can others contribute to the organization?
A: We will have a Facebook broadcast on April 28 at 6pm EST (Miami Time) explaining all about it. Anyone can also make a donation by clicking the link below.
Help SMASH win the fight against slumlords for the future of a better community!
Q: What is the most powerful experience you had so far?
A: I think that this is something we should all be (somehow) morally responsible. You will think that these communities have it easy because “they receive government help” when, in reality, the State of Florida is the hardest State to get any type of help. Most of us label them as “welfare queens” because you see them having more kids, trying to get all the governmental help there is. The truth is, these are people who come from a troublesome childhood, teens raising teens, they become great-grandparents by the age of 50 and unfortunately die by the age of 60, leaving behind no wealth but, debt. They are constantly pushed around by society and people telling them they cannot do better, ultimately that is what they believe. It is a vicious cycle that “the most fortunate” inject in their minds.
We live in such a wealthy city, no one seems to care about this problem. We have that mentality, “if it is not affecting me directly, I do not care about it”. A lot of people push them away as if they were a plague or something. We should not give our back to them, instead, we should be pushing them forward and help them believe they can achieve better. We do not only want to help them with housing but, also changing their lifestyle. That every child can get out of the cycle, being able to do their homework in a space where there is no mold, rats or, cockroaches running around.
Q: What would you say is mission accomplish?
A: The end of slumlords. That every single person (not only in these communities) but for everyone to find affordable housing. I believe that whoever wants a house should be able to get a house.
I really hope I did not ruin your vacation paradise but, someone has to pop the bubble of what it is really happening. It is time to look straight at the problem and not away, there are people out there that struggles to provide their family a decent roof above their head. Quit telling yourself that is how they want to live like because in reality no one deserves to live in such conditions. Reach out to those in need, offer your house to tutor these kids, help them to get out of the cycle. Give these families a chance to express themselves, get to know them better. We are all a community that can only go forward if we help each other collectively.
I want to give millions of thank you’s to Adrian for his time and this astonishing interview. These are the things that humbles our hearts, makes us feel blessed and, open our sense of community.
If you want to know more about SMASH, you can visit www.smash.miami.