"The apartment was like a sieve," said McMahon, who earned her Ph.D. at Rutgers University. "A friend told me 'You're living in Miami. If you expect to have an apartment with windows that close for less than $1,500, you're delusional.' But ($1,500) would have taken up half of my salary, and I have all this privilege and professional experience.
"What about single moms who have kids to take care of?" McMahon said. "How are they surviving? And how will they manage if a hurricane hits? I'm shocked this doesn't seem to penetrate the consciousness of public officials. It just seems penny wise and pound foolish."
Now McMahon is living in a small two-bedroom duplex in Biscayne Park with her boyfriend, where they pay $1,800 a month. The windows close properly and the unit also has hurricane shutters. But over the summer, when the neighbors next door renovated their kitchen, McMahon inherited an infestation of rats.
"The landlord said 'too bad' and that they felt they were already being super generous by paying for an exterminator," McMahon said. "I'm getting ready to move to Washington, D.C., to be closer to my family during the pandemic and help out. And I'm not sure if I will move back here. There are so many wonderful things about Miami. But I've been a renter for 22 years, and the three that I've spent in Miami have been the hardest in terms of the quality and safety of the apartments."
COSTS OF IMPROVEMENT
According to "What About Safe and Decent Housing That is Affordable?" a recent brief published by Florida International University's Metropolitan Center, 815,721 people living in single-family homes, apartments, condos, townhomes and mobile homes are at risk of being left homeless if a major hurricane makes a direct hit on Miami-Dade County.
The vast majority of those vulnerable residents are living in dwellings built prior to 1990 that have not been upgraded to existing codes. Doing so comes with a tab of $50,000-$60,000 per unit And that figure does not include other improvements such as electrical and plumbing renovations, lead paint removal and infestation/mold removal, which would cost an additional $40,000-$50,000 per structure.
The tougher, post-Andrew South Florida Building Code was established in 1992 after that hurricane damaged or destroyed more than 125,000 and left 250,000 people homeless in southern Miami-Dade.
That code was superseded in 2002 by an even stricter Florida Building Code that has been updated every two years. The current code, which is enforced statewide, requires high-impact windows and doors capable of withstanding 150 mph winds, a "complete load path" that ties the roof, walls and foundation of the structure together; and weather- and pressure-resistant exterior walls.
"When you look at the problem from a property owner's perspective, is it more cost-efficient to bring that property up to code, or does it even make sense to repair it?" said Nika Zyryanova, a research specialist at the Metropolitan Center who co-authored the study.