U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson will deliver the demolition certificate for the Liberty Square Housing Project Wednesday, marking the symbolic end of an era of the homes that people say looked like pork n’ beans.
Carson at 12:30 p.m. will meet with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the head of the development firm slated to rebuild Liberty Square, Related Urban’s Jorge. M. Perez, at the run-down housing project.
Carson will spend a full two days in Miami as part of his Listening Tour, visiting some of Miami’s most-hard-pressed neighborhoods when its comes to housing affordability as well as look at housing built through public/private partnerships.
Since Liberty Square is a public housing project, HUD has to give its go-ahead before the official remodeling can begin. The first segregated public housing site in the U.S., Liberty Square was built in 1937 to alleviate overcrowding in Overtown, formerly known as Colored Town.
But Liberty Square, once a transitional place for Black professionals, is now home to generational families living in spaces infested with rats and mold. Residents are subject to violent crime almost daily.
Gimenez Feb. 2, 2015 announced he would reform the housing project, by improving the living spaces and eliminating crime. Liberty Square Rising, the name of the $300 million redevelopment project, will be the hallmark of Gimenez's two-term mayoral tenure, he said. It is the largest redevelopment project undertaken by the county.
“It’s a good day for Liberty Square residents and all of Miami-Dade County,” Gimenez said Tuesday. “The redevelopment of Liberty Square is long overdue. Secretary Carson’s visit is a major step forward to building the new Liberty Square.”
Due to the structure of financing and building plans to redevelop Liberty Square, the project is considered a public-private partnership. The county created the parameters for Liberty Square, issued a request for proposals and selected a private construction company to execute an agreed upon plan. Last November, county commissioners selected Related Urban, an arm of Related Group, to raze and rebuild Liberty Square, replacing some of the public housing units with market-rate rentals and some for homeownership. Included in the new development plans are commercial spaces and a grocery store.
“Liberty City’s new construction is a holistic approach to housing that we at HUD believe is essential for creating strong communities that allow residents to succeed,” Carson said in a statement to The Miami Times. “As I have been on my listening tour, I have seen firsthand the benefits that come from developments that foster community like this one.”
That holistic approach includes private partnerships as well as proving employment for the residents in the blighted area.
For instance, Related Urban must give 20 percent of the construction jobs and 75 percent of permanent jobs to Section 3 residents, meaning those who live in public housing. The developer has to give 50 percent of contracts associated with the project to small businesses.
Carson told Fox News Monday that public/private partnerships give the local community accountability.
“This gets the local communities invested …You don’t just have these federal people looking over everyone’s shoulders,” Carson said.
Carson said he will be looking closely at Section 3 projects, since developers would use the excuse that the public housing workforce was unskilled.
“So what we are looking at is going in ahead of time, about a year before the project, go in and train people so now you don’t have that excuse. Now that they have a skill,” Carson said.
Miami-Dade County embarked on public-private partnerships in 2015 when it built Collins Park, a public housing development for seniors, without using any public housing capital funds. Related Urban, through a $100 million award from the state, converted the apartments to public housing, moving in 124 seniors from Three Rounds Towers Public Housing project. Carson will visit Collins Park in Allapattah on Wednesday.
Carson will also visit the newly built Courtside Apartments, which opened in Overtown last September. It was built by former NBA Star Alonzo Mourning and the Housing Trust Group and is considered a public-private partnership.
He will culminate Wednesday at Florida Memorial University to renew a Collegiate Partnership Agreement between the school and HUD.
Thursday, Carson will meet with housing authority members from Miami Beach and Hialeah, along with Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.
Carson will culminate his Miami visit at Miami Dade College’s North Campus, where he will mark National Fair Housing at the Miami NAACP Branch’s Fair Housing Conference. Carson is the scheduled keynote speaker. The conference will be in the School of Science Complex, Building A, Room A104, located at 11380 NW 27th Ave. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the community is invited.
Branch Housing Committee Chair, Daniella Pierre, who issued an invite to Carson, was shocked when his office called and told her “you got your wish,” she said.
Pierre had been tweeting and asking the secretary to bring his Listening Tour to Miami. She said housing is not a partisan issue; she is mostly concerned about the affordable housing crisis in the county.
“Fair housing is not just an act; it’s the law, and when enforced accordingly, it is a very powerful guideline to deter discrimination in all communities,” Pierre said.
Carson started the Listening Tour shortly after his confirmation in January, as a way to hear from public housing residents and community groups. He has already visited his hometown of Detroit and the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Miami is the third stop on the tour.