Miami leaders discuss rental, mortgage assistance; mask enforcement

MIAMI – City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and several commissioners held a news conference Thursday morning outside City Hall at which time the mayor announced that the commission would be debating whether to approve $1.3 million for mortgage and rental assistance that would be provided through the Local Housing Assistance Plan (LHAP) program.

Suarez said he expects the commission to accept the funds that the community is in dire need of.

“The other one is $306,000 that Vice Chairman (Ken) Russell had allocated previously that was unspent in the West Grove and is being reallocated to a rental assistance program,” Suarez said.

Russell said he sponsored the items going before the commission because the “city is suffering.”

“There is no comparison between the physical suffering of someone who has contracted COVID-19, is in the hospital and they pass away; there is no comparison to what their families suffer when they lose a loved one, but beyond the physical suffering, there is an economic suffering that our community is going through,” Russell said.

Despite the money set aside to help with rental and mortgage payments, Miami leaders say the money is still not enough for everyone who is hurting financially in the community.

“We have a lot of families that they are in danger of being evicted,” Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes said.

The press briefing comes a day after the city announced that it would increase penalties for people who are caught not wearing face coverings in public.

The first and second offenses are a $100 fine, the third is $500 and any additional offenses come with an arrest/notice to appear.

The tiered system builds on what had previously been a $50 fine for not wearing a mask in the city.

“I didn’t think I needed one in public if I was 6 feet away, but it’s so ridiculous I don’t know if I can actually bring myself to participate in this insanity,” David Hinds, who received a fine Thursday, told Local 10 News.

“I feel silly… as though they’re making any difference in this ‘pandemic,’” Hinds added, using air quotes when saying pandemic.

Miami Police Commander Freddie Cruz said this is simply the new normal.

“We have to do our part in controlling COVID-19 and the way to do it is through enforcement action, so this is much like enforcing a seat belt violation or someone that ran a red light. It’s the new normal, we have to do it,” he said.

Miami Beach is also issuing $50 fines for in-public mask mandate violations, starting Thursday.

Meanwhile, Dr. Alberto Dominguez Bali, of Hialeah Hospital, voiced his frustration about the debate about facial coverings during a news conference Thursday.  

“We shouldn’t be discussing if we use masks or not,” he said.

Bali was clearly exasperated that there is even a debate about what many believe is a basic non-partisan public health tool to help us tamp down on transmission amid a very real pandemic. 

“To use the mask and to maintain the social distance that has been said thousands of times at this point, and we are still finding people that don’t use masks, who refuse to use masks for a reason that doesn’t have to do at all with health (or) have to do with politics,” he said.  

In Miami-Dade County, the civil penalties are $100 for individuals and $500 for businesses caught not following the “new normal” guidelines that include social distancing, capacity limitations and the mask mandate.

“We have closed 15 businesses: 10 for 24 hours and five for 10 hours,” Suarez said.

Suarez said in the last 14 days, the intensive care unit census has been flat. The countywide hospital system has increased by 130 ICU beds to help the critically ill.

The mayor said data continues to show the largest number of COVID-19 infections are coming from households.

Suarez said residents, especially those who live in multi-generational households, should consider wearing a mask indoors and continuing to social distance at home.

About the Authors: