Clairemis Blan walks the gravel paths at the Little Farm trailer park with her cell phone in hand.
Neighbors wave hi to her and some stop her to list their grievances at the park, which is just East of Biscayne Boulevard in the Village of El Portal.
One neighbor tells her someone is breaking into empty trailers. Another warns her of strangers milling about at strange hours.
“I love them,” she says of her neighbors.
Blan lives in single white trailer. She’s a 72-year old widow. Originally from Haiti, Blan is one of several Haitians who call the park home. Among her Haitian neighbors she is called “la majistra”—Creole for “the mayor.”
“They call me the mayor because I watch out for them,” she says.
For about a year now, the people living at the trailer park have been fighting to stay in their homes. The property’s new owner, Wealthy Delight LLC, plans to demolish the trailers and redevelop the land.
Residents living at the park originally had until the end of February to move out, but that deadline has been extended three months as a result of a lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges El Portal violated state law by not conducting a housing analysis for the people who would be displaced by the park’s closure. An appellate court cleared the way for the lawsuit to move forward.
In the middle of all the legal back and forth and uncertainty, Blan, the de facto mayor, keeps tabs on the day-to-day happenings at the trailer park.
Sometimes she has to step in to keep the peace among her neighbors.
“Some of them be drinking,” she explains.
When the spirits flow, it can lead to cussing and occasional fist fights. After she breaks up the scuffles, she offers this advice: “When you drink your liquor, you must know how to keep your liquor.”
On a recent afternoon, during her usual stroll through the park, Blan runs into one of her neighbors, Janine Paul.
Paul stomps her feet together and greets Blan with a military salute. Blan does the same, touching her fingers to her forehead.
Blan tells Paul in Creole the other night she had to call the police on a questionable-looking man.
It turns out the man was a paid guard patrolling the area, but Blan had never seen him before.
“She does a good job in the park; she’s always looking out for us,” says Paul.
And Blan’s neighbors watch out for her.
“If I ain't gonna cook today she gonna go on the stove and feed me,” Blan says of Paul.
With news of the park’s eventual closing some families have moved out. Others have been evicted.
There used to be more than 100 families here. Now a few dozen remain.
These days, Blan is something of a community organizer in the trailer park.
When it was announced that the residents would have to move out, Blan went door-to-door to get her neighbors to show up for meetings and protests.
A few months ago, the trailer park manager, Addy Dominguez, was locking a tenant out after an eviction.
Blan led her neighbors in shouting, “Shame on you, Addy!”
“I love to be involved. I ain’t get paid for that,” says Blan. “ If I see something wrong, I come tell you something’s wrong.
Blan says it’s a shame that a place as affordable as this trailer park will probably close soon. To lease the land their trailers sit on, families pay $500 a month or less. Comparable affordable housing in Miami-Dade is hard to come by.
“Things so cheap we like it,” says Blan.
She stops by a peach-colored trailer with neatly landscaped plants. Her friend Sophia Alexandre lives here.
Alexandre says Blan stands up for the people. That is why she la majistra, the mayor.
With the deadline to move out of the Little Farm trailer park delayed, Blan and her neighbors have formed a committee.
They hope to keep the trailer park open or get enough money from the property owner to start over somewhere else.
On this committee, Blan, the unofficial mayor of Little Farm, has a new title.
Now she’s the president.