At Legal Services, we work two days in the office and one day remotely from the University of Miami campus, and the remaining two days are spent out in the field canvassing at mobile home parks. These parks are spread out all around Miami-Dade County, so we three LSGM DukeEngage interns have spent considerable amounts of time commuting and venturing into distant corners of the county. In the abstract, I had expected these trips to be pretty similar to one another, and I was not expecting the parks to be such distinct entities with their own unique profiles.
The first park, which we visited with our supervisor, was a cozy little park tucked away from the road behind a strip club. The park seemed pretty well-kept, and even with two teams interviewing, we barely made it through half the park because people were so eager to stop and talk with us about their lives in the park. Funnily enough, our second park visit—just the three Duke interns, this time—was almost the complete opposite experience. Almost every home in this park was surrounded by a chainlink fence or some other barrier that was either locked or covered with a tarp to give their yards some privacy. The surveys we completed in that park were almost exclusively limited to residents who were already outside of their homes. But even in this very segmented park, we had one of our most pleasant interviews to date with a retired woman who loved telling us about her family and her life in the park.
One of the most thought-provoking trips that we took to a mobile home park led us straight up the Florida coast out of Miami proper and all the way to Aventura. At the end of a 1.5-hour commute on public transportation, a 15-minute walk brought us to a quaint mobile home park for seniors, which was different from all the others we had visited. Nestled between two high-rise buildings, the park was a simple, elongated U-shape, with each mobile home neatly placed between its neighbors. This park was cleaner than the others, with a paved surface devoid of the usual gaping potholes, and the park lacks the green overgrowth that characterizes most of the parks we visit. But this park is closing. It is situated literally right across the railroad tracks from the Aventura Mall—featuring outlets for Gucci, Louboutin, Burberry, Armani, and many more—which puts a substantial price tag on the park’s undeveloped land.
Even the best-kept, nicest mobile home parks in South Florida are threatened by the relentless development in the region. Whether it’s five minutes from our office, or two hours north in Aventura, this is the persistent reality for the residents of these parks. Because they own their mobile homes but not the land, they exist in a state of limbo knowing that the land could literally be bought out right from under their feet and under their homes. For the sake of the picturesque Miami high-life, these parks and their residents are trampled underfoot to make way for highrises and capitalism. The project we’re working on is all about defending the rights of these residents, and helping them fight against the constant rent increases and impending buyouts, but it’s easy to feel like there is already writing on the wall that foretells impending doom for mobile home parks in Miami-Dade and all around the state. Our job is to listen to these people and their stories, but it is hard to swallow these tales knowing that the situation is so dire. As the three of us run around from park to park, I find myself wondering: When the time finally comes, what will happen to these families? Where are the places to which they will go?