Miami Law Student Stephanie Rosendorf (et al) Fights for Tenant and Homeowner Rights

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Stephanie Rosendorf loves a tussle, and she even made a sign reading I WANT TO BE A LAWYER in first grade.

Rosendorf, a Civil Rights Project Fellow with Miami Law's Center for Ethics & Public Service, was part of the team collaborating with low-income homeowners and tenants, local clergy, and civic activists in persuading the City of Miami Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board to reject zoning applications by a private developer of eight properties.

The community around the properties on Day Avenue in West Coconut Grove widely opposed the project. The application would have allowed the development of the cluster of 1950s era houses, many still occupied by its original residents, to be razed and "upzoned" for mixed residential and commercial use.

The third-year law student exhaustively researched and investigated the issue of whether municipal upzoning in predominantly minority communities throughout Miami and Miami-Dade County constitutes a discriminatory housing practice in violation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. Fellow Raymond Hernandez and second-year interns Ashley Jackson, Carmelina Forzisi, Ashley Morales, Stephanie MacLaughlin, and Nicole Pecorella joined in the team effort.

The 25-year-old Coral Springs native came to Miami Law for just such experiences. "The Miami Scholars Program and the various public interest resources available for students at Miami Law particularly interested me," she says. "I am very passionate about legal advocacy and will reach for a career in public interest."

In high school, Rosendorf became involved in politics and government. "I realized that the law played a substantial role in either furthering or stifling the advancement of our society," she says. "I figured the best way I could make an impact would be to obtain a law degree. I am also a political junkie, so naturally the intersection of law and policy and politics has always been a big thing for me."

Rosendorf says that Civil Rights Project became involved with the Day Avenue 8 when local clergy and church leaders became concerned that residents had started receiving notice of possible zoning changes from residential to residential/commercial use and learned that the City of Miami had already given an initial recommendation for approval to parts of the project.

"Our concern was immediate," she says. "We started a fact investigation and legal research to determine if fair housing and civil rights violations might be a factor in the proposed zoning changes."

“The Civil Rights Project fellows and interns were put on a very tight deadline to become immersed in fair housing law, conduct fact investigation, and community outreach," said Cady Kaiman, Lecturer and CEPS Practitioner-in-Residence. "The students were successful in not only knowing the law and the facts, but their research was used to help persuade the Planning, Zoning, and Appeals Board to recommend denial of the upzoning application. The ruling was a tremendous win for the community.”

The West Grove community depends on Miami Law's programs to defend the community against powerful efforts to change the character of the historic neighborhood that has its roots in the settlement of Bahamian laborers in 1887.

“This was about a concern for equity and parity and fairness," said Jihad Rashid, President of the Collaborative Development Corporation. "We very much appreciate the help from the Center for Ethics & Public Service and are thrilled that so many community members came out to the meetings and became informed about the issue. We need to continue the discussion and deliberation.”