Here’s the real deal about Annie Coleman. You have to take it straight - no chaser.

Less than 30 days ago, every public housing family who resides in the Annie Coleman 14 public housing sites in Brownsville were informed that they will be “temporarily relocated” due to unacceptably high levels of both crime and substandard living conditions.

As the details slowly drip from the County’s fortress, residents of the public housing development are learning that section 8 vouchers are being provided to each family to accommodate their relocation, with the promise of their right to return once the sites are redeveloped. But, if history is any indication, this exodus likely spells the end of Annie Coleman, forever. And now Annie Coleman residents themselves are now asking, “How could those sites get to the point of an involuntary mass-exodus?” In this week’s column, I’ll expose the rotten details of an age-old divide-and-conquer tactic that worked like a charm against Blacks.  

When the County began accepting applications to redevelop Liberty Square (aka the “Liberty Square Rising” project) in 2015, it included the redevelopment of 9-acres of land in Brownsville. The land consisted of the former Lincoln Gardens public housing site (now vacant land between Northwest 24th and 25th avenues on 46th Street) as well as upgrades to Marva Bannerman Park, located right off of Northwest 50th Street and 24th Avenue, across from Brownsville Middle School.

What’s worse, a “selection committee” of over 20 experts and “resident representatives” were assembled to consult with the County and developers on how the project should be built, without a single representative from the Brownsville community nor a single voice from public housing in Brownsville.  As the project steamrolled through adoption in July 2016, it was completely void of key participation and involvement from stakeholders in Brownsville. And the last thing on anyone’s mind back then was the residents of Annie Coleman 14.

But within a few weeks of learning about what was going on, the Brownsville Civic Neighborhood Association, (BCNA) led by their President Kenneth Kilpatrick, stepped up and objected that there was no representation from Brownsville on the selection committee and, that although brand new public housing units were being built in Brownsville, none were slated for Annie Coleman residents. It was the BCNA who pushed for a redevelopment effort of Annie Coleman 14 sites that would’ve rivaled the Liberty Square Rising project in resident and community benefit, an effort that would’ve brought new public housing (with a documented right of return), social programs, scholarships and more.

The Miami Times first reported on the intervention of the BCNA in August 2016 and would go on to publish a total of six articles regarding their fight against the County and Related Urban’s plans to redevelop the Lincoln Gardens/Bannerman sites without real involvement from the community. During this battle, the BCNA demanded that a resident council be formed and trained to give a voice to Annie Coleman residents before any new public housing in Brownsville was approved or built. And with that, the Annie Coleman 14 Resident Council, led by Arlette (Rose) Adams, was born.  

It was perfect. The residents of public housing could grow their newly formed council while using the influence of homeowners, business owners and veteran activists of the powerful BCNA to address more controversial matters. Remaining united, the resident council would have pummeled opposing forces and agendas while forging an unprecedented alliance. But, like the odd person in the fourth box on “Sesame Street” and Tariq from Starz’s “Power,” Adams and her council members decided to do their own thing by making other plans – but those plans would prove to be devastating to the families of Annie Coleman public housing sites in Brownsville.

And just in case you’re wondering what is the status of the Annie Coleman 14 resident council today, just know that the County has declared the council as “non-existent” and, as of last week, any reference to Adams’ leadership in Annie Coleman was removed from the county’s website. In other words, there’s no good use for her or the resident council anymore.

But where have we seen this before? When Sara Alvin Smith was head of the Liberty Square resident council, she was the strong community voice of the Liberty City Rising project. In fact, it was her voice that had spoken for those in Brownsville on the selection committee to redevelop the Lincoln Gardens/Bannerman Park sites, which prompted objections from the BCNA. Smith could be relied on to fight for whichever group that could bring change to her public housing community. She was clever and unapologetic in her wavering of support from one developer’s proposal to another. But her ill-advised decisions ended up costing, now County Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, a decisive victory, as she was outmaneuvered by Mayor Carlos Gimenez who used the very same people that she supports against her.  You see, the mayor’s preference was Related Urban, who was ultimately chosen to redevelop Liberty Square, after a controversial re-bidding of the project commenced because of a scoring error by Smith. After Smith supported the mayor’s choice to win the bid, she was eventually evicted from Liberty Square, for cause, due to violations of the community’s policies.

And now, some of the key promises made to the community in the Liberty Square deal are being ignored. It’s no wonder why the BCNA continues to call for a split of the Liberty Square/Lincoln Gardens project in Brownsville. It’s even clearer now as to how Adams and the Annie Coleman 14 residents were tricked out of their homeland and scattered with the wind of section 8 vouchers. When the Black community relies on “leaders” to play the game of life for them, you have no one to blame but yourself when you discover that the playbook is rotten.

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