BROWNSVILLE — At a recent meeting of the Brownsville Neighborhood Association, a representative of a nonprofit housing organization announced the area’s next step forward: a new housing development.
“Let your friends and families know about these homes,” said Benji Power, director of Community Building and Organizing at Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida. His organization has been a staple in the Brownsville community since 2005.
The group has repaired and built homes, sponsored “paint days” for existing housing and conducted leadership workshops on community building.
Promoted as “North Dade’s first all-new single-family home community in 10 years,” the Dupuis Pointe development offers three- and four-bedroom/two-bath homes that will sell for between $120,000 and $150,000 in the neighboring community of Gladeview. The cluster of 27 homes is located between Northwest 62nd and 64th streets from Northwest 31st Avenue and 31st Court.
Residents at the homeowners’ meeting listened intently as Power talked about the Dupuis homes and other new and restored properties for sale in and near Brownsville. Most of them are among the area’s original black property owners and descendants who have held onto their community since blacks transformed it from a white farming community to a suburban enclave for the black middle class in the 1940s.
During that period, Brownsville — more popularly known as Brown Sub — offered its new residents, most of whom had lived in Overtown and Coconut Grove, one- and two-bedroom homes on large lots in the community that lies just north of State Road 112 — the Airport Expressway — stretching from Northwest 43rd to 54th streets between 27th and 35th avenues.
In segregated South Florida, Brownsville glittered as a star-studded destination for many of the nation’s renowned black performers, prominent civic leaders and sports figures, including singing legend Billie Holiday, national civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
They frequented two rooming houses — Georgette’s Tea Room, a 13-room house built in 1940 at Northwest 51st Street and 25th Avenue, and the Hampton House at Northwest 54th Street and 22nd Avenue.
But Brown Sub has received national attention also for its locals, said Enid Pinkney, an educator and longtime resident.
At a banquet Saturday to raise funds to restore Hampton House, three men who grew up in Brown Sub were honored for their achievements: John Marks, mayor of Tallahassee; Ronald Blocker, who recently retired as superintendent of Orange County Schools, the nation’s 10th largest school district; and Harry Coaxum, who recently retired as vice president and general manager of McDonald’s Corp.’s Atlanta region.
But holding on to Brown Sub — its fame and its residents — became a challenge in the 1980s, when decline stepped in, caused by factors such as vacant and rundown housing to spurts of criminal activity, street riots and lack of a commercial base.
Until Barnett Bank introduced a mobile bank service in 1996 at the Brownsville Metrorail station on Northwest 27th Avenue, the nearest bank was several miles away in Hialeah.
A permanent Bank of America branch has since opened in the Browns-
ville Renaissance Shopping Center at Northwest 54th Street and 27th Avenue but Brownsville mostly contains scrap and junk yard businesses and remains without a major grocery store. For the past two years, the circulator, a vehicle provided by the county, transports a sprinkling of residents to a Publix in Hialeah or a Winn-Dixie in Liberty City.
Lack of commercial development aside, residents say they are happy to see new houses coming to their neighborhood and refurbishment of some existing ones. But they have reservations about what the changes could mean to the predominantly black community.
“People have said to us, ‘You’re building these homes but who are you selling them to?’” Power said.
Hispanics are increasingly moving in, a trend that began in the 1990s, when five to 10 percent of the core area’s 1,000 homes were occupied by Hispanics. By 2000, that percentage had risen to 15 and, by 2010, Hispanics accounted for nearly 30 percent of residents, Power said.
About half of the inquiries for the new housing come from Hispanics.
“Blacks are not moving to Brownsville,” said Ros Borden, a 25-year resident. “When I moved in, everyone was African American. Now half of my block is Hispanic,” said Borden, who, with Gwen Johnson, is running the homeowners association to help the group’s longtime president, Everett Stewart, who has been ill.
This Latinization of Brownsville, as some residents describe it, raises concern that the community may lose its black character.
“I never dreamed that this community would change but it is changing before my very eyes,” said Enid Pinkney, founding president/CEO of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust Inc. which is leading the drive to restore the property. “In my day, white people didn’t move into a black community,” said Pinkney who turns 81 this month.
Black residents moved out of Brownsville for reasons that range from wanting bigger and better houses elsewhere to lack of good jobs in South Florida. As a result, the community has been dotted with vacant lots, rundown housing and homes that have been turned into rentals with occupants who do not necessarily share the pride of home ownership, Power said.
“That left an opening for Hispanics,” Power said. “Hispanics are saying, ‘We’re happy to have a home here. “We don’t mind that African Americans are here but we also don’t feel a need to reach out to the African-American community,’” Power said.
Coaxum, one of the Hampton House honorees, said the trend worries him. “It concerns me that when the new people come they don’t know the history and the family struggles to educate children who had to leave Miami to find a job.” Isabella Rosete, who moved to Brownsville six years ago from Caracas, Venezuela, may be an exception. She is active in the community and is the only Hispanic who regularly attends homeowner association meetings.
Other Hispanics may not want to reach out because they do not speak English, she said.
“It’s hard to integrate,” said Rosete, who purchased a home that had been a rental property. “It’s hard for me, even though I try. I enjoy learning about new things but, to other people, it’s a barrier. I think it is the language.”
Pinkney, though, is optimistic Brownsville will move forward with its new residents.