At his annual State of the City address Tuesday, Mayor Francis Suarez made an interesting comparison between Miami today and the Miami of 40 years ago — back in 1980 — one of the city’s most tumultuous times in recent history.
At that time, Miami wasn’t in the grips of a pandemic, but the city faced deadly racial unrest in the wake of Arthur McDuffie’s death at the hands, and fists, of police, economic upheaval and the Mariel Boatlift, which brought 125,000 Cuban refugees to Miami in a matter of months.
Then and now, the city endured tremendous strain. It bent, but it survived, the mayor said.
“Over the past year, we’ve been tested; we’ve adapted and we’ve overcome,” the mayor said.
But is Suarez speaking too soon? The coronavirus pandemic is far from done with us.
In his speech, the mayor forecast economic recovery by attracting new and existing businesses to resettle in Miami, a campaign he has led.
$14 million in rent relief
And the mayor had good news for some cash-strapped Miami renters. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has awarded the city $14 million to help people pay rent and utilities under a federal COVID-19 relief program. That will keep a roof over many residents’ heads. It’s a reminder of the persistent income inequality that plagues the city and stretches beyond its boundaries.
During his speech in front of a small crowd of local politicos and administrators, Suarez brought home the point that Miami has proven to be a city with a heart during the global pandemic, handing out assistance to residents, a mission of the mayor and commissioners.
“COVID-19 has compelled us to design targeted relief that opens, activates and stabilizes our economy,” the mayor said.
In the harsh year of 2020, Miami sponsored three targeted assistance programs for businesses that suffered a loss of revenue because of COVID-19 restrictions. The city offered rent assistance for several hundred and gave out $250 vouchers to other needy residents to buy groceries at Publix.
Better days ahead?
In his speech, the mayor attempted to execute a balancing act: He acknowledged the need for immediate relief for suffering Miamians while forecasting economic recovery through attracting new and existing businesses to thrive in Miami.
As a leader should, Suarez signaled better days ahead for the city. In a move that has been criticized for not acknowledging the downside, the mayor has been pushing hard to roll out a welcome mat for tech entrepreneurs and other innovative businesses, setting his sights on a post-pandemic vision of a commercial boom. Suarez’s efforts are commendable, but unless the city does better in the long-term by its poorer residents, they stand to be pushed to the brink by an influx of well-paid, highly skilled tech staffers — who, of course, would be a boon to the city. Again, it’s a matter of executing a balancing act.
To facilitate the arrival of new money in Miami, the city is upping its game by launching upgrades like eStart, a program to streamline and digitize the process of obtaining permits to start a business.
It replaces an outdated application process that could take three to six months and require several visits to City Hall. It’s smart recognition that we dwell in the 21st century.
The mayor well understands that business growth is vital to Miami’s economic recovery from the pandemic, and entrepreneurs could play a major role in that recovery.
In his speech, the mayor concluded that “the state of the city is strong.”
To be realistic, we would add “fragile” to his description.