Environmental Justice Clinic Addresses Displacement of Vulnerable Populations

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pollution in the city

In 2017, Forbes magazine ranked Miami as the No. 1 worst city for renters to live. The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that Miami had the country’s highest rate of "worst-case need" renters -- those who spend more than 50% of their income on rent.

The communities the Environmental Justice Clinic serves are particularly vulnerable to displacement because of the high proportion of renters and the rent burdens they face. In response to concerns raised by the clinic’s community partners, the EJC developed the Displacement Vulnerability and Mitigation Tool, known as the DVMT or the Anti-Displacement Tool.

The tool forecasts and mitigates the projected displacement arising from a proposed development. It equips real-estate developers and local municipalities with research-informed strategies to mitigate and redress the segregative effect that can occur when residents are displaced and re-segregated.

"Displacement undermines the fabric of communities," said Natalie Barefoot, the clinic's former director. "It tears apart families, support systems, and vibrant cultures that developed over years, while intensifying poverty conditions, exacerbating stress and stress-related health consequences, and inhibiting economic mobility for those displaced.”

"Displaced residents may also find themselves unable or less able to advocate for their needs since dispersed communities often have diminished political power since they are less able to organize, thereby diluting their voice as a voting bloc," added Daniela Tagtachian, the clinic’s inaugural Mysun Foundation Fellow.

Often attention and research focuses on the various factors that contribute to the gentrification of a community. In contrast, the primary focus of the Anti-Displacement Tool is to mitigate the displacement of vulnerable populations that results from zoning and planning decisions which change the character of a neighborhood.

“The tool identifies potential mitigation strategies such as financial contributions to a trust funds, constructing affordable housing, and relocation assistance," said Abigail Fleming, the clinic’s practitioner-in-residence. “However, the mitigation efforts identified are non-exhaustive, and as such, the developers, local government, and the community are encouraged to include mitigation efforts that best meet the particular needs of the community.”

Designed to be completed by a developer as part of the permitting process -- akin to an environmental impact study or a community impact report -- the tool provides a framework by which developers and local municipalities can make informed decisions when considering new developments.

"The intention of the tool is not to discourage new developments," said Tagtachian. "Instead, it is designed to equip developers and local municipalities with the information necessary to forecast and mitigate the displacement of vulnerable communities."

The communities the clinic work with consistently identify displacement as their issue of most significant concern because direct and indirect displacement is happening to many of Miami’s most underserved and underrepresented populations.

"I have learned to appreciate the difference between advocating on behalf of, as opposed to, empowering a community to advocate for themselves," said rising third-year clinic intern Sam Ludington. "Empowering a community to find their voice and advocate for themselves should be the goal of anyone in a position of privilege that is working with disenfranchised communities. The opportunity to develop the Anti-Displacement Tool, which can help to mitigate population displacement not only in South Florida but can easily be adopted throughout the country is a really rewarding experience. Knowing that the tool can provide protections for vulnerable communities across the country is professionally fulfilling."

The tool is not yet in its final form, as the EJC is in the process of receiving and incorporating feedback from community partners and other stakeholders. After the tool is finalized, the EJC will move on to the implementation phase which will include discussions on the best way to tailor the Anti-Displacement Tool to Miami’s needs. The Anti-Displacement Tool and explanatory webinars may be viewed here