For all the positive steps that cities are taking to affordable housing policy and programs, there is another level of housing that government too often does not handle well: housing and other programs for the homeless. Homelessness is a politically tricky and sensitive subject for elected officials.  Emotionally, charitably, I think everyone wants to do the “right” thing and assure that as few people as possible are homeless.  However, this is a NIMBY issue which makes homeless decisions difficult for elected officials at all levels.

Ft. Lauderdale is faced with yet another homeless crisis and its mayor, city commission, city manager and police department have recently handled the problem badly. For many years, a homeless encampment has existed in Stranahan Park, a small city park in downtown Ft. Lauderdale adjacent to the main branch of the county library.  About 40 people live in and around the park.  The homeless have, to the city’s dismay, expanded onto city sidewalks.  City residents and business owners have complained for years.  The camp residents use the library’s bathroom facilities and sit in the library during the day to cool off and use the computers.

In the middle of May, the city reported itself to the Broward County Health Department about potential health violations in the park, primarily the presence of rats. The health department inspected, and though it did not observe any rats, found conditions that could create a “harborage for rats”.  The health department issued a notice of violation to the city on May 18th.  The mayor directed the city manager to take action.  The city’s response was not exactly “proportional”.

On May 19th, without notice to the residents of Stranahan Park, the city raided the homeless camp. Ft. Lauderdale police arrived with bull dozers, garbage trucks and blue bins.  Residents who were on-site were given but a few minutes to put their possessions in the blue bins.  The bins were then seized and stored by the city.  Everything else was seized and destroyed.  Residents who were not on-site had no opportunity to save their property.   People lost everything they had; clothes, bedding, eyeglasses, medication, family heirlooms.  The residents were evicted from the park.

Last week, the ACLU and the Southern Legal Counsel filed suit in Federal Court on behalf of 16 of the residents of the camp alleging violations of the 4th (unlawful seizure) and 14th (due process) amendments.

Following the raid, Ft. Lauderdale arranged for housing for 34 of the camp residents in a local motel for 1 week. However, since then, many of the former residents have found their way back to Stranahan Park.  Though the park remains closed, the former residents are staying on the side walks surrounding the park.  So, what did the city’s action accomplish?

The raid was reaction to residents NIMBY complaints, not thought out homeless policy. Ft. Lauderdale, like most cities, relies on non-profits to provide services for the homeless.  In fact, there are over 800 beds for homeless within 2 miles of Stranahan Park provided by Salvation Army, Broward County Partnership for the Homeless, Broward Central Homeless Assistance Center and Hope South Florida and others.  Most, if not all of these beds are full any given night and most are allocated on an “emergency” basis.  These beds also come with other services for the homeless so perhaps those living in Stranahan Park would not qualify for the beds, or do not want the services that come with the beds – which brings us back to threshold question:  shouldn’t state and local governments adopt comprehensive and compassionate policy for the homeless?  To me, the answer is obvious.  Absolutely.


        South Florida is in the peak of King Tide Season. This is the time of year when high tides are abnormally high because the moon is at its closest point to earth. We experience these tides at full moon from September to November and again in the spring, from March through May. The ocean and coastal waters creep over seawalls and rise through storm drains, flooding streets and neighborhoods. Miami Beach gets nationwide attention, not only for the flooding problems it faces, but for the efforts it has undertaken to fight back against the seas. Championed by Mayor Phillip Levine, Miami Beach has made a $400 million investment to reduce flooding. The city continues to install a pumping system in lower lying areas. And, it is raising street levels and replacing and raising seawalls.

             Of course, the problem is not limited to Miami Beach. Sea levels continue to rise. Some experts predict that by 2045, there will be a 15-inch rise in the mean high tide in South Florida. Broward County faces the same problems as Miami Beach, though it has not aggressively begun to fight back. During the recent King Tides, neighborhoods in Ft. Lauderdale’s Las Olas Isles posted “No Wake Zone” signs on streets. These signs ordinarily are found on the waterways to regulate boating speed. Hollywood’s Lakes neighborhood floods after even minor rain storms. But during the King Tides, the flooding was deeper and affected streets further from the lakes than usual. City and County leaders continue to discuss prevention methods, but funding in Broward County does not exist.

             This could change on November 8th, election day. Voters have the opportunity to approve a penny sales tax that will be used to fund transportation and infrastructure in Broward County. One-half cent will be used by the County to fund transportation projects and the other one-have cent will be used by the cities and unincorporated Broward County to fund infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects include projects designed to address sea level rise. Proposed projects include:


  • Dania Beach – Modernization of master drainage plan.


  • Deerfield Beach – Artificial reefs stabilization, beach reclamation project.


  • Ft. Lauderdale – Restoration and replacement of city owned seawalls, storm water and tidal improvements, including backflow valves in downtown, New River and Nurmi Isles, seawall replacement on Isle of Palms, Cordova Road and East Las Olas, storm water Improvements on Cordova Road and Arglyne Drive.


  • Hillsboro Beach – Beach re-nourishment.


  • Hollywood – North and South Lake seawall construction.


            There are other programs available to cities that can be used to fund infrastructure projects that will combat sea level rise. In many cases, the sales tax funds that would be allocated to the cities could be used as matching funds, thereby increasing dollars available. Unfortunately, if the sales tax does not pass, most of the proposed projects will not be funded. According to Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr, there is no money available to complete any of these projects and they will die. Unless a city has any bonding capabilities available, it will be years before sea level issues will become a priority.

             A half a penny can make a difference in the fight against rising seas. It is not too much to pay.


        Floridians are hurricane experts. We know how to prepare. We are always vigilant. But it has been 11 years since South Florida has gone through the drill. Maybe we have become lazy. I know my wife called me lazy on more than one occasion as Hurricane Matthew began to bear down on us. We knew it was out there more than a week in advance and we began listening to our favorite meteorologists (everybody in hurricane country has a favorite meteorologist). You can tell when they get serious when they start to raise their voices a little bit, when their jackets come off, when their ties are loosened, when their voices get a bit hoarse. These are all signs that the threat is real.

             Here, we were waking up for the second day of Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday. The cone of danger was clearly targeting us. My wife announced that we had to put gas in the cars immediately. The storm was still 2-3 days away. Off to services we went. She later put gas in her car. The 2:00 update had put Broward and Miami-Dade Counties under a Tropical Storm Watch, meaning within the next 48 hours we could possibly see tropical storm force winds. To seasoned veterans, that is an ordinary afternoon thunderstorm. But, Palm Beach County and north were under a Hurricane Watch. One small wobble, and the hurricane would be headed our way.

             Later that afternoon, I took my daughter to the airport to go back to New York. I assured my wife that I would gas up my car on the way home because the TV news shows were showing breaking news of long gas lines all over town. Of course, I did not fill up my car. When I got home from the airport, the 5:00 update was out. The Hurricane Watch had been extended southward to the Broward/Miami-Dade County line. We would likely be hit by a hurricane within 48 hours. Now, we had to plan. My wife’s first thought was that we had to run to the bank and withdraw as much cash as possible. I sat on the couch and waited for the Vice Presidential debate. That is where I was accused of being lazy. I told her that there would be cash in the ATM tomorrow and I didn’t understand why hoarding cash was necessary. But, that is what the TV people always tell us to do, so we do it. We discussed our preparedness plan. At some point Thursday, I would move the outdoor furniture in and close the shutters. We discussed where our important papers were. The office. That led to a discussion as to how safe the office is. Therefore, I was to either scan the papers or bring them home. The only papers of any value in the office is our insurance policy, which the insurance company has and I have the agent’s number but I won’t go into that with my wife.

             Wednesday morning, my alarm didn’t go off (am/pm problem Jerry Seinfeld) so we watched the 5:00 a.m. update at 5:45. We were now under a Hurricane Warning. That meant we were likely to experience hurricane force winds within 24 hours or less. Our plans had to be put in place within 12 hours. We discussed flash lights. We have many. Do we have batteries? We had not touched our hurricane kit in years. In fact, we had pilfered the batteries from the hurricane kit over the years. No batteries. What are we going to do? I would have to find more batteries. Frankly, when it gets dark, I would prefer just to go to sleep, but, for some reason, we need light. Off to work we went. I promised to stop for gas. My wife insisted that I would be stuck in a gas line for hours. The gas line at the gas station I stopped at was all of 2 cars. However, gas prices had jumped about 23 cents a gallon in the last 2 days. The gouging had begun.

             By 10:00, my wife’s office had announced they would close at 5 and would be closed Thursday and Friday. We decided to close Thursday and would see what happens Friday. I went out at lunch in search of D batteries. 4 stops later, no D’s to be found. Fortunately, I did find working lanterns with working D’s in our house before I left. Still need some more D’s for a couple more flash lights and lanterns if possible. But, at least we wouldn’t be totally in the dark when the power goes out.

             Shutters started going up at the office around 3:00. I decided to leave the office at 4:00 and start implementing our plan. My wife thoughtfully picked up steaks, burgers and hot dogs which we would put on the grill when the power goes out. Though we had lots of wine and whiskey at home, I stopped and bought a 12-pack of beer. Something about a hurricane makes me want beer. I think it is the heat that follows. Then, because there is no power, you have to drink it all before it gets warm. After Wilma in 2005, all the neighbors sat in front of our houses with our grills and beer and had a block party. Also, I made a mental note to ask my wife if she wanted to stock the freezer with ice cream. The first thing you want to eat when the power goes out is ice cream. Can’t have that spoil, right?

             I started my work at home at 4:45. It really isn’t too much work, but it was the first time I had to do it without the help of my kids, both now living in the northeast. I got started on the task long before my wife got home from work. The order of things to do is very specific. Start by closing the shutters that require a ladder. Done. Move outside furniture and trashcans inside, starting with the garage, leaving room to park 2 cars. Done. Continue by carefully stacking remaining outdoor furniture in living room (after carefully placing blankets and sheets on the floor). Done. Close remaining shutters that need to be closed from the outside and do so before it gets dark. Done. Squeeze the cars back in the garage. Done. Finally, close remaining shutters that are closed from the inside the house. Done. I was finished in under 2 hours with 3 bloody knuckles to show for it. Not bad.

             We would now be stuck in a dark house for the foreseeable future. Our plan for the evening? A couple of steaks, a bottle of wine or 2 and as many episodes of House of Cards as we could watch before the wine kicked in. Resolved not to watch forecast updates all night as hysteria would begin to kick in during the overnight broadcasts. 2 episodes later, and about 10 phone call interruptions from concerned friends and family, we were done. But one last thing to do – make sure we had books to read on our Kindles. Done.

             Thursday morning and the forecast had changed. Matthew was still bearing down on the coast, likely north of us, but still at Category 4 strength, so we could expect hurricane force had winds arriving sometime in the afternoon. But the cone had taken an ominous turn. The projected path suggested that the darn thing was aiming to take a second strike at us after the weekend. For some reason, the meteorologists weren’t focusing on this. They were too busy screaming at us to evacuate. Governor Scott was telling us that we were going to die if we didn’t do what he said. And I was looking for information about a potential second strike. If it came back, even at weaker strength, the damage would be much worse. I remember communities that have taken 2 hits in a relatively short time, usually from separate storms. The battering from the first storm was bad enough. But because of the initial damage, the second hit was usually devastating. Resources were thin and defenses were weak.

             But as the day progressed and we huddled in our fortress, nothing happened. Sure, it was windy and rainy, but we Floridians are used to wind and rain. The local stations were all in with breathless reports of scattered power outages and random trees down. Young, excited reporters were stationed on the beach interviewing brave souls who disregarded the Governor’s dire warnings and wanted to see the action first hand. Since there was no action happening locally, the local stations cut to Nassau which was experiencing a direct hit. Again, reporters had to stand outside to give us a live look at what “could” happen if we weren’t prepared. They showed us street flooding, downed power lines, a gas station that had suffered some damage. They cut to footage of Haiti which always gets hit and, because of its extreme poverty and lack of any infrastructure, suffers tremendous devastation. But locally, we were experiencing a true non-event.

             By 8:00, the Hurricane Warnings were finally down graded to Tropical Storm Warnings and South Floridians were declared to be “off the hook – this time”. The Space Coast, however, was now the clear target. My wife and I simply continued our House of Cards binge watch, and opened another bottle of wine. At some point, I tired and turned to Thursday Night Football and the Baseball Playoffs. We discussed plans for unwinding. In the morning, I would open up the downstairs shutters and we would wait to hear whether Matthew would return before opening the upstairs shutters and putting the patio furniture back outside.

             And so it was. I awoke before sunrise and spent 15 minutes opening the shutters. The yard had some leaves and downed branches, but no more than we would following a typical summer thunderstorm. By 8:00, our lawn service was out cutting the grass. Life was back to normal. I received word from the office that the shutters were down and we would be open and we all returned to work. My wife got an extra day off as her place of employment previously announced the 2-day closure.

             What did we learn from this experience? I hear many people expressing frustration. They are frustrated that Matthew did not hit after they went through all of the preparations and after all the stress and excitement. Are they nuts? Had the storm hit South Florida, insurance companies predicted a potential $200 billion loss. This was a Category 4 storm. Sorry for the inconvenience, but a miss is a good thing. What we learned is that we have not lost our hurricane preparedness skills. It is not a bad thing to test them out once in a while as we were certainly out of practice. I would gladly do this every year only to have the storm veer off at the last minute each time. We have seen our community suffer tremendously in the past and we have seen too many communities suffer each year. So the lesson is always be prepared, always be diligent. And most importantly, keep your spirits up. Once you know you have done everything to keep your family and your property safe and enjoy the time together.

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    Welcome to Assouline & Berlowe’s Florida Real Estate Law and Investment Blog with news, insights, and commentary for investors, developers, and their advisors.


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