Environmental Justice Clinic: Cases & Projects

 

EJC interns

The Clinic's Current Projects Include:

Old Smokey
Located in the West Grove, a historic African American and Afro-Bahamian community in Miami, “Old Smokey,” an aptly named municipal incinerator that operated from 1925 to 1970, released copious amounts of toxic ash that contaminated the air and land surrounding it. After Old Smokey was razed, the hazardous debris was placed in public parks across the City of Miami, including several in the West Grove. In 2017, after discovering that the City had measured elevated levels of contamination due to the operation of Old Smokey, a litigation team including the EJC filed a state class action lawsuit on behalf of past and present residents of the West Grove against the City of Miami and the engineering firm contracted to remediate the contamination in the municipal parks. In addition to addressing the contamination of property, this lawsuit also requests medical monitoring for the residents of the West Grove who suffered health consequences due to the exposure to contaminants.

Anti-Displacement
Gentrification has caused dramatic changes in urban, low-income minority neighborhoods in South Florida, as well as across the nation. Rather than focus on the many factors that can lead to gentrification, the EJC focuses on alleviating the main unwanted consequence of gentrification: the displacement of people, and in particular, low-to-moderate income minority communities. Displacement occurs when development (or municipal actions related to planning or zoning) causes the involuntary relocation of households and businesses. The EJC’s current project focuses on the former. Displacement of households can be direct, by relocating people on the site to be developed, or indirect, by increasing market values and rents, or changing the neighborhood’s ability to meet basic needs and forcing communities to be priced out of their homes. Of particular relevance in South Florida is climate gentrification, which occurs when areas more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as those with higher elevations, are targeted for development, facilitating and exacerbating the displacement of many low-to-moderate minority communities. Moreover, the communities are often displaced to areas where they are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and have diminished access to resources and opportunities.

To combat displacement, the EJC is developing an Anti-Displacement Tool. Similar to an environmental impact study, the Anti-Displacement Tool is designed for municipalities to assess the vulnerability of residents to displacement during the permitting process and to identify mitigating measures and alternatives that minimize the potential displacement of residents. Additionally, the Anti-Displacement Tool will assist municipalities in complying with Fair Housing Act standards by assuring that developers and local municipalities are not disparately impacting protected classes through displacement and that proposed developments do not have a segregative effect.

Flood Risk Disclosures
The EJC aims to inform and protect future home buyers and renters in Florida who are often unaware of the risks they face due to sea level rise and climate change. As flooding becomes more intense and frequent in light of climate change, people are increasingly at risk of damage to and loss of their belongings and homes, adverse impacts on their health, and increased ancillary costs, such as the loss of wages when flooding obstructs the possibility to travel to work. Flood risk disclosures divulge a property’s flood history and risks, notifying prospective buyers and renters in order to allow them to make informed decisions to protect their health and property. Currently, twenty-nine states plus Washington, D.C. require flood risk disclosures during the sale of real property and two states require flood risk disclosures to renters, a population which is often comprised of minority communities. Despite being extremely susceptible to flooding, Florida does not require the mandatory disclosure of past flooding or current flood risks.

The EJC is conducting a comparative analysis of flood risk disclosures across the United States both for homeowners and renters, evaluating the benefits and obstacles of implementation of a disclosure in the South Florida region, and providing potential policy solutions to make mandatory disclosures a reality.

The Clinic's past projects include:

The EJC’s prior projects include developing a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) template and general resources guide; examining the affirmative marketing practices of an affordable housing development in a low-income minority community to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal regulations; conducting an environmental health disparity analysis of Miami-Dade County; developing community resources on right-to-know legislation; and analyzing the relationship between the displacement of minority communities of color and form-based codes, such as Miami21 and Urban Center Districts in unincorporated Miami-Dade County. Additionally, the EJC was involved in the Dunbar case, a federal class action litigation seeking to address the environmental health consequences of exposure to a toxic dump site in the heart of a disenfranchised and historically discriminated against African American community in Fort Myers, Florida.

See below for more information about the Dunbar case:

In the 1960s, the City of Fort Myers created a dumpsite in the heart of Dunbar, a predominantly African American community in Fort Myers, Florida. Since then, the City operated and maintained the open dump, never fencing off the area or warning residents, including children who played on the site, until an investigative reporter revealed in 2017 that the City had been measuring elevated levels of contamination on the site for over ten years. The residents took action and through a litigation team, including the EJC, filed a federal class action lawsuit against the City of Fort Myers for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and state law. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the City of Fort Myers began remediation of the site with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection monitoring to ensure the removal of all of the toxic sludge from the site. The claims under the RCRA, which sought remediation of the site, were dismissed on summary judgment and the remaining state law claims remain viable for refiling in state court.

For Information

Please contact environmentaljusticeclinic@law.miami.edufor more information about the EJC and its current or past projects.

 

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