Overtown

Overtown

All seem to agree that Overtown has made admirable progress as it emerges from past public and private neglect and that much of that progress can be attributed to the area’s community redevelopment agency.

As the historically Black neighborhood continues to overcome inherent socio-economic challenges, residents agree that they want to see the life of its community redevelopment agency extended past its original end date of 2030. Last Thursday, the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency board, which sees Commissioner Keon Hardemon as its chair, approved a resolution that would extend the life of the CRA from 2030 to March 2042.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the board members and will go next to Miami-Dade County officials for review. But the heads of the agency say the county’s outstretched hand ready to snap 45 percent of its main sources of income – as stipulated in past interlocal agreements – prevents some means to fund current and future projects. In addition to an extension, the agency’s board seeks to amend the current interlocal agreement with Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami, its two taxing authorities.

Time is of the essence for the agency to finish its mission of eliminating slum and blight in the neighborhood. Florida law caps the life of CRAs at 60 years.

“We got to get it done this time,” said Cornelius Shiver, executive director of the CRA, which was established in 1982. A 2042 extension would mark 60 years since the inception of the agency. “Redevelopment and revitalizing historically Black communities is very tough,” Shiver said. “It’s more than the dollars; you have to change environment and mindset and you have to change living conditions.”

Several community members approved the prospect of extending the life of the agency.

Emmanuel Washington, born and raised in Overtown, commended the Overtown CRA board for its efforts to help the community with home ownership and job creation initiatives. He believes the agency tries to make sure that people do not get left behind.

“You guys have done an awesome job and I know that you will do an even greater job in the future,” he said at last Thursday’s meeting.

To address the presence of Overtown, the agency instituted an Overtown Beautification Team, which is in charge of sweeping trash off the streets and maintaining cleanliness in the neighborhood.

Tito Miller, a lifelong Overtown resident, works for the agency as part of its beautification team. “Overtown has improved but it still has its loose ends,” he said. Though the agency has employed people to help maintain its aesthetic presence, residents still litter and throw trash in the streets, he said. Overall, however, Miller believes Overtown has improved tremendously from his memory of the area growing up, he said. “The CRA is doing the best of their ability,” he said. “It’s baby steps; we have to take it one day at a time.”

As far as affordable housing, 4,000 units are in the pipeline, Shiver said. That accounts for units that are completed, under construction or planned, he said. The agency will work in tandem with the Department of Home and Urban Development to continue adding affordable and workforce housing for the neighborhood’s residents, Shiver said.

District 5 Commissioner Keon Hardemon

District 5 Commissioner Keon Hardemon prepares to give his address.

CRA GRANTS FOR WHOM?

As part of the agency’s economic development plans, the agency has several programs, ranging from workforce training to grants intended to help small businesses thrive in the Overtown.

The agency recently showed support for House of Mac, a Black-owned restaurant with a location Wynwood, that is in the process of procuring a small business grant from the agency valued up to $110,000 to expand in the neighborhood.

“House of Mac is of Overtown,” said Shiver of the agency’s plans to help expand the establishment. As neighborhoods change and redefine themselves, it creates a challenge in branding Overtown and its businesses, Shiver said, but the agency’s mission is always to create jobs and help small businesses. Part of the agreement with businesses supported by the agency, such as House of Mac, is to hire directly from the agency’s sponsored hospitality and culinary programs. “They agree to hire from these programs,” Shiver said.

When it comes to its grants program, however, some believe the agency needs to give more consideration to native Overtown small businesses in the area before considering bringing outside entities into the neighborhood.

Overtown resident, Andre Williams, voiced his concerns regarding small business funding to the agency’s board last Thursday.

He wants the board to give more consideration to original Overtown businesses that need financial support before supporting outside business ventures like it did with the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees Tri-Rail and Brightline train services.  

“I’m very satisfied with the work of the CRA,” he said, “but when it comes to funding, I am a little on the fence because I want to see more opportunities [for] businesses that are trying to exist in Overtown and are from Overtown.”

Williams said that Brightline’s economic contributions to Overtown remains to be seen. A project like Brightline, though intended to increase interconnectivity between Miami and Orlando, benefits tourists mostly, he said. “I don’t think Brightline was placed specifically for community use.”

And though as part of Brightline’s benefits package, Overtown community members received trades and construction training, its unclear if those jobs will remain in Overtown after the project is completed. “When the construction is done, who is left to take care of the residents of the community?” he said. “It’s only right that small businesses be empowered.”

“Let’s invest in the community,” Williams said. “If we keep bringing outside entities what we are doing is sending a message.”

Current taxing agreements may stifle the economic development of Overtown.

Under the 2008 interlocal agreement with Miami and Miami-Dade County, the agency is required to return 45 percent of the CRA’s tax-revenue produced by its projects back to the city and the county.

As a result, the county and city take money intended to stay in Overtown and place it in the general fund for other projects, Hardemon said.

“I always thought that this was taking away from the community,” said Hardemon about the interlocal agreement.

For the fiscal year 2017, the CRA reports that $5,207,467 were returned its taxing authorities.

“The CRA was created because the county, city, and state were not investing directly into these spaces. What we are trying to do now is have the county fix some of those values that they have taken away from us and invest it back into the projects within the redevelopment area.”

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who sits on the Overtown CRA and oversees the nearby Omni CRA, echoed Hardemon’s sentiments regarding the current interlocal agreement.

“So much of our ability to improve the neighborhood was tied up in the interlocal agreement with some items that do not necessarily accomplish our original mission,” Russell said.

He is also seeking an extension of the Omni CRA. The Omni CRA covers parts of Overtown, Wynwood and Museum Park. “Both CRAs have been working on this as there is so much work left to do,” Russell said. “An extension would allow us to get back to those very core things that we should be doing as CRAs and really make a difference in the life of residents.”

Hardemon hopes that the agency can restructure the current inter-local agreement with the city and the county. “The hope is to resolve some of the disagreements,” he said.

He believes 10 more years of revenue coming to Overtown will generate millions of dollars for projects in the neighborhood. “In 10 years, Overtown is going to be a very, very special place,” Hardemon said.

It took close to 30 years to get Overtown to where it is at at the moment, Shiver said. “We didn’t start seeing the impact of this investment until 2012. It took that long.” He believes the agency can accomplish its goals by 2042.

“The task is just that monumental.”

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