hashim-benford_web.jpg(Florida International University) –The Miami Workers Center faces eviction from its offices in a Miami-Dade County-owned building for failing to pay rent since February and because of the building’s poor condition, even though, according to the organization, it has paid for repairs its leaders maintain were the county’s responsibility.

Center leaders said they have the right to withhold rent because the county failed to perform health and safety repairs on the building at Northwest Seventh Avenue and 62nd Street which is set for demolition to make way for the county-sponsored Seventh Avenue Transit Village redevelopment project.

“The government purchased the building so they could kick us out of it,” said Hashim Yoemans-Benford, lead organizer at the community activist organization. He said a leaky roof and mold may impact the health of workers. “We have every right to withhold rent because they let the building fall into inoperable conditions."

Suzy Trutie, Miami-Dade’s assistant director of communications, said the county acquired the building intending to tear it down.

“We bought the building in disrepair and didn't feel the need to fix it since it was set to be demolished,” Trutie said.

“Of the 10 tenants in the building, only two are refusing to leave,” she said. These two are the workers center and Greene Dreams Shoe Repair.

“The other eight businesses were relocated to areas in the neighborhood. Our goal in assisting with relocation is to keep the businesses in the community they serve.”

Yoeman’s-Benford said the center compiled a list of needed repairs when the county purchased the building in 2009 and sent the county a letter in January saying it would withhold rent unless the repairs were made.

When officials failed to do anything, the center spent $25,000 to repair the roof, remove the mold and update the plumbing, he said.

“We have been running our operation out of a temporary location, which is a problem,” said Gihan Perera, the center’s executive director. “When you leave a place for too long, you run the risk of people thinking you left.”

With repairs nearly completed, the center is now fighting to remain in its refurbished offices after receiving an eviction notice on May 12 ordering it to vacate the premises.

The building is due to be demolished to make way for the Seventh Avenue Transit Village, a transportation, condominium and retail complex that officials say will revitalize the Liberty City neighborhood.

But the center says the county is not honoring a lease from the previous landlord that lets it stay in the building until February.

“We understand we will have to move when they start demolishing the area,” said Benford. “But why not let activity continue on the block until they are ready to get that done?”

Alec Scott may be contacted at ascot002@fiu.edu.

Pictured Above:  Hashim Yoemans-Benford