- Guillermo D. Olmo @BBCgolmo
- BBC News Mundo, Miami
Something is happening in Miami — and faster and faster.
The South Florida city is attracting people and businesses from other parts of the United States and the world, also becoming one of the new centers of reference for many entrepreneurial projects in the technology area.
Comparisons with Silicon Valley, California’s great technology center, have become commonplace in newspaper articles and in the speeches of some local politicians.
“We’ve never seen anything like it before,” says BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language news service, Rebecca Danta of Miami Angels, which is dedicated to bridging the gap between investment partners and entrepreneurs in the sector. technology companies seeking financing for their projects.
For her, Miami is benefiting from “the decentralization generated by the pandemic”, which has led many professionals working remotely from US states where the restrictions imposed by the covid-19 pandemic were more severe to seek a milder climate, more freedom and less taxes.
In an article published in the Miami Herald, Craig Studniky, executive director of the Related ISG Realty real estate agency, said that “for years, South Florida has seen a population increase of more than 900 people a day,” but the pandemic “has acted like that the catalyst for one of the biggest increases in migration ever seen.”
The phenomenon is reflected in the real estate market, with a 39.8% year-on-year increase in sales in the first four months of 2021, according to data from the city’s association of realtors.
This housing boom is precisely what worries many local politicians and activists, who see how it makes it difficult for working and middle-class families to access housing in one of the most unequal cities in the United States.
What is happening
The city of Miami is a financial center of reference for Latin America and traditionally receives immigrants from that region — it is still a usual destination for tourists from other parts of the United States, including students who usually enjoy Miami Beach during spring break, the so-called ” spring break”.
In the popular imagination, Miami was immortalized in the 1980s with the television series Miami Vice, in which the police duo played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas chased unscrupulous drug dealers aboard a Ferrari convertible.
The series’ plot reflected the city’s role as the great laundry of continental drug trafficking, but the kind of economic and human capital that now flows here appears to be different.
“Demand for housing is close to a record level as more buyers from the northeast and west coast, as well as financial and technology companies, move here,” says the report by realtors.
Young entrepreneur Delian Asparohov is one of the faces of the new migration to Miami.
Partner of space startup Varda Space Industries and Funders Fund, he is one of those who left California for Florida in recent times.
“I’ve lived in San Francisco Bay since 2013, but in April my girlfriend and I moved here.”
They bought an apartment in Wynwood, an area that for decades was a neighborhood for immigrants and low-income workers and is now Miami’s coveted art and design district.
“I date more productively, I work harder, I’m happier, I sunbathe more, I’m fitter, I eat better, and my girlfriend is happier. So far, just perks.”
One of the things that excited Asparohov was the unexpected response he got before he moved. “What if we took Silicon Valley to Miami?” he asked himself.
And Francis Suarez, mayor of the city of Miami, responded, “How can I help?”
It was one of the milestones in the mayor’s campaign to transform Miami into a new center for technological entrepreneurship, in which he has been engaged for several years.
“We want to be on the next wave of innovation,” Suarez told the New York Times. The mayor is seen at the technology fairs that take place more and more frequently in Miami.
He recently proposed accepting bitcoin as payment for taxes and using it to pay public officials, an idea that has earned him even more fans in the cryptocurrency enthusiast community.
The mayor’s efforts seem to have begun to bear fruit in recent months, when corporate figures like Carl Icahn, one of Wall Street’s most successful investors according to Forbes magazine, and Antonio Gracias, chairman of Tesla’s investment committee, settled in Miami.
But Suarez’s initiative isn’t the only official incentive to migrate to Miami.
The city also benefits from the fact that Florida is one of nine states in the country that does not levy state income tax, which is a great incentive for individuals and companies considering moving there.
Rebecca Danta says that “although the pandemic has accelerated (the process), what is happening in Miami is something that has been sought after for a long time”.
Delian Asparohov believes that, overall, “there will be an increase in the standard of living here as many companies hire engineers from local universities” and “technology companies tend to bring a lot of prosperity wherever they go”.
But the process can have other unwanted effects, in addition to the temporary disembarkation of professionals who fled the restrictions in their places of origin.
Eileen Higgins, commissioner for District 5 of Miami-Dade County, which comprises the city centre, tells BBC News Mundo that “what is happening is very worrying”.
“The arrival of technology companies is good news because it creates jobs, but in Miami we have a historic crisis in access to housing and this could make things even worse, making it very difficult for working and middle-class families to have a place to live.”
The commissioner proposes the use of public land for the construction of social housing and highlights one of the peculiarities of the Miami real estate market. “A lot of the houses here are not houses but bank accounts,” she says, referring to properties bought by investors from Latin American countries to protect their economies from instability in their home countries.
Higgins fears that Miami will start seeing the film whose ending is already known in California, where “the technological revolution has led to a housing crisis”, and recalls that the city of Florida suffers from “high levels of inequality” as ” here there are many people who live from low-paid jobs.”
Inequality is also a problem with racial overtones. According to a report by Clever Real Estate and the NGO Dream Builders for Equality, the Miami area and the neighboring regions of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were fourth on the list of 15 American urban concentrations with the greatest disparity in value of properties between districts with a mostly black population and the others.
In those with a black majority, the average property value was 478% lower.
According to a realtor who declined to be identified, “the market is now extremely hot.” There is high demand for low supply, which encourages landlords to fire their tenants to sell their properties.
That’s what happened to the residents of Paradise Park trailer park in the Allapattah area, who recently received an eviction notice because the land was sold to a company that plans to build on it.
Davalyn Suárez, a lawyer representing the tenants association, told NBC that “this is happening all too often, and affordable housing is becoming more scarce”
“The trend is for them to buy the land on which these trailers are located and build apartment buildings, which they can rent to more people and for more money.”
And many of these lands where people with fewer resources live are in areas that have become more coveted precisely because they are off the coast and are less vulnerable to rising sea levels, a serious problem that Miami will face in the coming decades.
Rebecca Danta, from Miami Angels, believes that the influx of new residents with greater purchasing power could be the solution to some of the problems this phenomenon poses.
“We know that in places like New York and San Francisco Bay, which had a boom in the tech economy, it created big income gaps, and as early as 2013 Miami had one of the biggest gaps between the cost of living and average income. One of the ways to tackle this problem is to generate better-paying jobs, and the sector that does this is technology.”
Whatever the outcome, Danta doesn’t believe the “fever” of living and investing in Miami will ease in the short term: “It’s here to stay, and Miami will be a big place for years to come.”
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