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Activist Group Launches Protests Against Code Enforcement They Say Serves As Harassment

Lake Worth City Hall

The small beachside city of Lake Worth still has some of the small-town, Old Florida charm that has becoming elusive in real estate-hungry South Florida: small, postwar single-family homes, a main drag with independently owned shops and a population of working-class people.

Yet developers have slowly but surely turned their attention here, and activists say that a recent push by the city’s code enforcement department is just a tool for landowners who want to increase property values.

The code enforcement department has long been the bane of residents, facing constant complaints that it does too much or too little. About half of Lake Worth's homes are rentals, and many are owned by slumlords who fail to get business licenses or take care of properties, the Palm Beach Post reports

According to Channel 25, the city was blighted with old and broken-down cars, so in 2017, commissioners passed an ordinance allowing code enforcement to tag cars that are then towed away. “Operation Red Tag Wednesdays” is now in full swing. 

A group called the Palm Beach County Tenants Union said that the enforcement falls on struggling, working-class families and people of color — who have to pay to recover their cars and/or pay fines. The complaints mirror those from other gentrifying neighborhoods around the country, who say new residents use local enforcement authorities and the police to harass longtime, minority residents.

The tenants union rallied dozens of residents to speak out and hold signs at City Hall Tuesday night in opposition to the program.

In a Facebook post, the group wrote that commissioners want residents "to believe that somehow the city's goal with code enforcement is to actually help renters by stealing our property and extracting large fines from us in mass…Let us be clear - The neighborhoods where code is actively towing people's cars are the same neighborhoods that investors and developers are working diligently to ‘redevelop.’ This is not about helping poor renters, this is about displacing those who do not fit the vision of the city’s redevelopment plan.”

The union did not respond to request for comment from Bisnow.