As extreme heat continues impacting South Florida, officials and advocates are taking steps to mitigate rising power costs

This week headlines screamed that extreme heat will be a fact of life for over 100 million Americans in the next 30 years.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The heat is on.

We’re talking about all-time records, like we have never experienced in recorded history.

This week, headlines screamed that extreme heat will be a fact of life for over 100 million Americans in the next 30 years.

It’s already hot here in South Florida, but according to a new climate report by First Street Foundation, it’s about to get even hotter, with heat indices soaring to 105 degrees 88 days out of the year by mid-century.

Jane Gilbert is the world’s first Chief Heat Officer, appointed by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniela Levine Cava last year to begin to mitigate the increasing risks of extreme heat to Miami Dade residents.

“It’s already started to accelerate,” she said. “We’re gonna see that accelerating, particularly if we stay keep emitting more trapping gases into the atmosphere that is going to continue to warm us up.”

Gilbert says it is our poorest neighborhoods that will bear the brunt.

“Areas with the highest poverty rates are also our hottest areas in the city,” she said. “They’re urban heat islands because they have lower tree canopy, less pervious surfaces, and those not only are higher during the day, but they radiate heat at night.”

Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami are now working with Keep Safe Florida, a program initiated by Enterprise Community Partners, to help affordable housing properties retrofit themselves for the pending impacts of climate change.

It’s a partnership that was originally launched by the City of Miami.

“Programs like this help,” said City of Miami District 5 Commissioner Christine King. “We’re asking our developers to create their buildings to address climate and resiliency, so they last longer.”

Laurie Schoeman is Enterprise’s Director of Climate and Sustainability, and she underscores the need that exists.

“This is extremely urgent and critical issue,” she said. “The existing affordable housing that we do have is under extreme threat, from climate risks, such as hurricanes, flooding, and extreme heat.”

“Miami is facing a housing crisis,” said King. “Providing affordable decent safe housing is a crisis here in Miami.”

And if a catastrophic event were to impact Miami, for many residents there is no Plan B.

“Tenants have nowhere to go,” Schoeman said. “If there’s an incident, and if the housing goes down, they don’t have second homes to go to.”

Making sure that doesn’t happen is the goal of Keep Safe Florida. The program has a free app that helps landlords conduct resiliency audits on their properties, identifying all upgrades needed and then finding the funding to make the improvements that include everything from roofing to flood prevention.

“We’re looking for drains, and to make sure that there’s proper drainage coming off the building,” said Schoeman. “We’re looking for the windows having shading and protection. We’re looking for energy efficient lighting.”

Salvador Russo is the Vice President at Carrfour Supportive Housing, a nonprofit that owns and operates 2200 affordable housing units in South Florida, like Parkview Gardens in Liberty City, a 60 unit complex built in 2012 that, thanks to Keep Safe Florida, is now receiving necessary upgrades.

“One of the things that came up was are the appliances energy efficient? One of the things we found out was that since this property was developed it wasn’t a requirement at the time for us to use energy star appliances,” Russo said. “So this would be upgraded.”

Energy efficiency is critical in making properties more resilient, since many tenants struggle with ever increasing utility bills.

Resident Willie Mae Guyton must now ration her air conditioning use because her FPL bills are too high, especially during the summer.

“It used to be like $75 dollars, maybe $50 dollars, but now it done went up. It’s really up,” Guyton said of her power bill. “I’m on social security. I’m disabled.”

For Guyton and her neighbors, the new upgrades aren’t just money saving, they’re lifesaving.

“If people have to make the choice between putting food on the table or keeping their place cool, they may opt out of the air conditioning and that presents its own health risk,” said Gilbert.

New landlord Rafael Saldana is refurbishing a 1926 Miami River home where he operates four affordable housing units.

“Making sure that I’m able to afford the power here, that my tenants are able to report their power here is really important, and the last thing that I want is have a big storm come through and rip off the roof. And, you know, leave us all homeless,” Saldana said

The home needs a lot of work, improvements Saldana is able to make thanks to Keep Safe Florida.

“You’re going to get a lot of insight into what you might be missing, about what you can do to the property, and if you follow through and are then able to get additional resources to fix up the property, it’s just a win-win. It’s a win for me as the landlord and it’s a win for the tenants,” Saldana said.

And it is a big win for South Florida, as the more resilient we become, the better our quality life as the effects of an ever warming planet begin to manifest.

“Come to us now,” said Schoeman. “Well we have this resource available for free to any owner across Miami across Florida to help inspect your building and figure out what you can do because time is ticking.”

The resources that are available come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and sponsored funding the city set aside to support affordable housing.

For more information, click here.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.