From MiamiHerald.com, Christina Veiga, CVEIGA@MIAMIHERALD.COM, 6 Jan 2012.
After tense meetings Thursday, pro-bono attorneys are researching whether Homestead Housing Authority tenants may have been improperly evicted.
Pro-bono attorneys are evaluating whether to take on cases from tenants evicted, or soon-to-be evicted, from Homestead Housing Authority apartments for farm workers.
Representatives from Florida Legal Services and Florida Rural Legal Services met with concerned tenants at meetings Thursday night at the authority’s Redland and South Dade housing centers.
Housing authority board member Arturo De Leon, however, called the lawyers’ presence “absurd.” And longtime farm worker advocate Cip Garza echoed the sentiment, saying, “there’s no reason to bring attorneys.”
Nancy Rivera-Tidwell, executive director of the nonprofit Sembrando Flores, called the meetings. She shot back at De Leon’s comments.
“I don’t want you to come here and intimidate the people, because then the people hide away,” she said.
On the heels of a scathing report by the federal agency that funds it, the Homestead Housing Authority has begun to crack down on tenants who don’t qualify under federal rules to live in the centers. Homestead Housing Authority Executive Director Oscar Hentschel said that under regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which provides millions of dollars each year for the centers, residents must:
- Be employed in agriculture.
- Meet income requirements.
- Be permanent U.S. residents or citizens. Foreigners with permits to work in the United States but no green card are not eligible.
Most of the problems cited in the USDA’s report predate Hentschel and most of the current board members.
“We have to follow the law,” housing authority board member Martha Torres told a standing room-only crowd of residents gathered at the Redland center.
In applying those guidelines to tenants, the housing authority officials have determined that tenants who file 1099 tax forms — meaning that their employers treat them as independent contractors rather than true employees — do not qualify for housing because they are considered self-employed.
“We want to know, where is the rule that the 1099 isn’t good enough?” Karla Martinez, a paralegal with Florida Legal Services, told The Miami Herald after the meeting.
While self-employed people are specifically exempted from living in farm worker housing centers, USDA guidelines do not specify which tax forms are acceptable in determining tenant eligibility, agency spokesman Jay Fletcher said.
Tenants on Thursday complained that many employers, especially small nursery owners, pay workers in cash and only provide 1099 forms, even though they are not really self-employed.
Martinez, the paralegal, also said Florida Legal Services will be ensuring that landlord-tenant laws are being followed. Some residents on Thursday complained families were being told they need to vacate their homes right away, although Martinez said 30 days’ notice is required.
“We went there to learn the issues and what’s going on, and if there’s something there, legally, that people need to know. I would think that the housing authority would agree.”
She added: “We may not have to get involved. There might be things that will not be resolved through an attorney, but through a social service agency.”
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