Exodus

On the morning of Aug. 26, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez shared his “game-changing” affordable housing efforts.

Not too many people were in the room at South Miami Plaza but many of the who’s who of housing had made it.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Denise Cleveland-Leggett was there, so was Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development Director Michael Liu, and also Principal and Senior Vice President of Related Urban Alberto Milo.

Easels around the small room held pictures of Gimenez’s legacy project, Liberty Square Rising.

Wearing a grey suit, white shirt and a red tie, Gimenez took to the lectern.

He went straight into an “important discussion” on the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program and shared that Miami-Dade has been accepted to participate. Known as RAD, the program has been changing the face of public and affordable housing across America – and it would the county, too.

He shared how the program will help Miami-Dade to not only rehabilitate its public housing units – the majority of which are in various stages of decay – but also how the program could bring even more low-income and affordable housing to market. All this to be done with minimal disruption to residents.

Fast-forward to the Oct. 3 County Commission meeting, where a parade of public housing residents expressed consternation about PCHD’s announced closure of their homes at Harry Cain Tower and Annie Coleman 14 in September. Residents will have to move. But shuttering buildings and moving people out of public housing seemed contrary to what Gimenez had said only weeks earlier.

Annie Coleman 14 is being closed because units need to gutted at costs exceeding $56 million and rampant criminal activity, reports show.

Harry Cain Tower, is being closed due to environmental hazards such mold, asbestos and lead-based paint.

Both residents from Annie Coleman 14 and Harry Cain Tower were told they would have to find new homes using Housing Choice Vouchers, widely known as section 8.

Typically, section 8 assists low-income individuals or families with a subsidy that is paid to a landlord who has property enrolled in the program.

CHAOS AND CONFUSION

But the County Commission meeting dissolved into chaos as speakers tried to figure out what program was being affected by RAD and whether the displaced could move to another housing project.

Annie Coleman 14’s rehab will fall under the RAD program.

During Gimenez’s speech on Aug. 26, he said residents would experience minimal disruption during the rehab of their homes under RAD.

“I also pledge that, wherever possible, just as we have done at Liberty Square, we will require that our developer partners minimize displacement of residents during construction. Wherever feasible, developers will build new units first before demolishing old units. Or they will work to rehab vacant existing units without requiring whole buildings to be emptied all at once,” Gimenez said.

Yet, Annie Coleman 14, whose buildings are located throughout Liberty City and Brownsville, will be emptied. Residents of the 245 apartments of Annie Coleman 14 were notified that they would need to accept section 8 vouchers. All residents of 154 units of Harry Cain will need vouchers, too.

Reviews of the news were mixed.

“It ain’t going down like that; over my dead body,” said Leroy Jones, executive director of Neighbors and Neighbors Association (NANA) in an attempt to support residents who are currently being offered section 8 vouchers. “It is hard for people without section 8 vouchers to find a place to live. I am talking about people with good jobs who can’t find a place to live. How do you expect [public housing residents] to find a place to live?”

Later, Commission Chair Audrey Edmonson grilled Liu as to why residents couldn’t be moved to another public housing site.

Liu said PHCD’s available inventory, may not match up with the needs of the displaced residents.

“PHCD does not have a lot of three of four bedrooms ready and vacant,” Liu said.

Letters sent to the public housing residents didn’t offer them an option to move to another public housing site. For Annie Coleman residents who are part of RAD, they should have been offered public housing, as per the RAD toolkit.

HOW IT WILL WORK

The county’s public housing department plans to pay rental application fees, moving expenses as well as the first and last months’ rents, utility hookup fees and a security deposit. Residents will be offered an opportunity to return to a rebuilt home.

Representatives of the public housing communities are skeptical about the county’s process. The Overall Tenant Advisory Council (OTAC) was created to engage with public housing authorities. Some members feel left out of the process.

Diane Strozier, a resident of Southridge I & 2 public housing development in South Miami Heights, is a pioneering member of OTAC. She believes the county circumvents the council when it comes to key decisions that affect OTAC’s constituents.

“I’ve been living in public housing since 1978; they are doing what they’re doing to divide us. Miami-Dade County … won’t even recognize nor maintain resident councils per the guidelines of HUD,” said Strozier. “I don’t have the money the County has, but I’m not going to sell-out public housing; all I have is Jesus.”

Rachel Johnson, a housing advocate, believes “residents councils are being strong-armed and bullied” by Liu and the entire team.

“They're not doing this the right way,” Johnson said.

WHAT’S RAD?

RAD drew conversations about gentrification, neglect and displacement, as the new housing program swiftly makes its way to implementation in Miami-Dade County. RAD has gained the full recommendation of PHCD and strong support of commissioners.

But RAD lacks the approval, popularity and buy-in of most residents.

RAD is supposedly designed to "preserve public housing" and provide access to funding for renovations. What RAD does is basically convert the public housing program into the section 8 program, but the rental subsidy is assigned to the apartments, not the occupants. Under RAD, the county applies for the federal funding that is then passed on to developers to fix up run-down public housing developments. In Miami-Dade, PHCD would own the land, oversee the program, administer some maintenance but no longer manage the day-to-day housing program. A voluntary program of HUD, RAD was authorized by Congress back in 2012.

PROTECTING RIGHTS

Constance Fleming is ready to go. The 13-year Annie Coleman 14 resident said, “this is the worst development I have ever stayed in; units are no good and safety is out of control; I don’t even go outside.”

The remaining handful of Annie Coleman 14 residents who attended the County Commission meeting spoke in support of residents receiving section 8 vouchers.

“Not trying to stop the section 8 vouchers just want to protect their rights,” said Arlette (Rose) Adams.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, County Commissioners had had a different agenda than what was on the public housing residents’ minds. Commissioners were to vote to amend the RAD application to add 1,292 more public housing units, bringing the total to be considered for renovation to 7,718. If the county had to renovate those units without RAD support, it would need $2 billion.

After lengthy discussions between the Commission and Liu, the amendments to RAD passed without a "no" vote on record from commissioners – and with more amendments.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, of District 8, recommended that a Tenant Relocation Agreement be done in the form of legislative policy. But it didn’t move forward.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan of District 1 spoke on what must be included and outlined in a Tenant Relocation Agreement. She harkened to the botched Scott Carver project redevelopment. Before the projects were demolished, residents were moved to various parts of the county. A plan to bring them back to the rebuilt Scott Carver went awry. Jordan wants to mitigate the Annie Coleman 14 outcome.

Edmonson directed Liu to prepare a Tenant Relocation Agreement, delineating the promises made by PHCD for both Harry Cain and Annie Coleman 14.

The agreement, lacking any mention of homeownership, will be presented at the upcoming Chairwomen’s Policy Council noon, Friday Oct. 18 in the Miami-Dade Commission Chambers, second floor, in the Stephen P. Clark Center, downtown Miami.

ALSO AT THE MEETING:

Zelalem Adefris, resilience director of Catalyst Miami; Alana Greer, co-founder of Community Justice Project; David McDougal of Miami Climate Alliance spoke in support of the agenda item that aims to put an end to evictions during declared state of emergencies due to disasters.

During preparations for Hurricane Dorian, Miami-Dade County Police tried to execute an eviction. Mayor Carlos Gimenez curtailed all evictions during that emergency period. The legislation followed.

The item passed unanimously.

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