What many residents of the public housing community did not know is that the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (USHUD) is getting out of the business of owning and managing public housing - for good. A fact, that should have been passed onto them by their resident councils. In less than 20 years, three main public housing communities, which helped to make up the residential population of Model City, have been dismantled. The first of the three is James E. Scott, a.k.a. “Scott Projects” and the other two projects are the Liberty Square Projects, known as the Pork ’n Beans, which is in the process of being demolished in Liberty City, and Annie Coleman 14 in Brownsville, which is slated to be next with the Annie Coleman 15 and 16 sites likely to follow.
What the resident council of Annie Coleman 14 never knew was just how shrewd and Machiavellian the county could be when dealing with public housing resident councils and its parent body, the Overall Tenant Advisory Council (OTAC). But resident councils before them know all too well.
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity,” says Sun Tzu in the book, “The Art of War.”
The county sows confusion among public housing residents and the councils that are supposed to be representing them. The one thing that I’ve noticed about all of these resident councils is that they rarely come back to the residents and explain to them what they've negotiated, nor do they apologize to the community when they are bamboozled by the county.
The other thing that appears likely is that in the midst of all the back and forth, not one of those resident councils had reached out to HUD and filed a complaint, nor did they contact their U.S. Congressional representative or either of their U.S. Senators. But there is one body that all of these resident councils did reach out to extensively, a body that they all leaned on heavily, and a body that would ultimately betray and fail them miserably – the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. After countless meetings with Commissioners and two-minute intervals of testimony at County Commission meetings, residents and their councils found themselves frustrated, confused and defeated, time and time again.
And when the smoke clears, community advocates and residents find themselves mercilessly dismembering each other’s character with shame and finger-pointing for the deeds of a County that misled and dismantled them like a serial killer.
If you think about it, a complaint to a federal body would ultimately have to be lodged against the County, itself – the great escape artist and snake charmer of resident councils, everywhere. Because even when dealing with a population peppered with demonstrably lower educational successes, it’s not as easy as you would think to fool another human being. And, to do it successfully, three times in a row, is a feat that should make ‘ole Jim (Crow) blush. At some point, the barrels of protests, marches and petitions should be aimed squarely at local elected officials who would allow two decades of bait and switch policies to be carried out – without limit – against the most vulnerable families in the Black community.
What the resident councils have done, consistently, is go along with the program. But when they find out how they were tricked, they become irate about it because now they understand that what they have done (or didn’t do) have repercussions that could make many of those families homeless. And then there’s the “right-of-return” for the hundreds of families that are being vacated due to an “emergency” criminal element in the neighborhood. This is the greatest bait and switch of them all. Crime has existed in America from its beginning. It has thrived in Black America not because of public housing or because of the color of our skin, nor is it because of cultural considerations. Crime has thrived in Black America because of its driving forces: illiteracy, poverty and racism. None of which are addressed by HUD’s “RAD” program or the mass-exodus of hundreds of families from the neighborhood.
Activist Leroy Jones recently addressed the Board of County Commissioners with a furious rebuke of the County’s plans for Annie Coleman 14 when he said, “Now, what you are going to do since it’s crime, you are going to give them a section 8 vouchers so that the crime will move to other communities.”
Maybe his ties to the mayor and Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson will shift the atmosphere and put a stop to another ill-advised and hastily implemented initiative in the Black community? This mass-exodus also presents the eerie possibility of several school closures in Brownsville due to the low-enrollment adjustments that will occur after all of these public housing families have been scattered. However, with the prospect of charter schools taking over public schools in the Black community, this may be just what the doctor ordered for the master planners. Are you starting to get the picture yet?
The county has allowed public housing’s community policies to rot with no real enforcement to safeguard the community. As a result, there are families with people on their leases who have gone to jail, yet they remain in public housing. So, instead of following public housing guidelines of HUD’s “One Strike Policy,” which provides for an automatic vacate of that unit for criminal convictions, countless numbers of drug dealers and violent criminals are living throughout public housing communities and wreaking havoc on those sites and neighborhoods. What Miami-Dade County has done is criminal and it is liable to every public housing family because their inaction has helped to contribute to the gang environment in public housing. And this environment has attributed too many of the deaths of the young brothers who we have seen firsthand in public housing across Miami-Dade.
Miami-Dade Public Housing & Community Development now has the audacity to present section 8 vouchers to families to move out of Annie Coleman 14, knowing that some will have a hard time because of their criminal background. All PHCD had to do was vacate the bad apples when they had the chance.
And maybe those who silently cheer the demise of public housing never realized how public housing and their illiterate, unemployed, ex-felon occupants were the real reason that they qualified for that small business grant, or that “affordable” or “workforce” subsidized apartment or that, lower-than-average, property tax bill that they’ve enjoyed for all of their adult lives? Oh well, it’s “their” problem, not yours, right?
For as much as we talk about gentrification and its impacts, we sure are sluggish about the storm that’s threatening us right now. I think the next time that a storm heads for a neighboring state or island I’ll pay more attention and be better prepared to help in the aftermath. You never know if the storm will turn, suddenly, and wipe out your neighborhood, instead.