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Miami Herald - May 6, 2001
HOUSING PROJECT WORRIES TENANTS.
Residents fear displacement
BY Andrea Robinson
In the 25 years she's lived at James E. Scott projects, Beulah Thomas has survived
oppressive summer heat, floods, riots and shootings.
But now she fears she may have to pay a steep price for a new, better neighborhood
if she's forced to relocate when the scheduled demolition of Scott and nearby Carver
``Some of us want our own homes. [But] this will displace a lot of people. Why interrupt
a whole neighborhood?'' Thomas asked. ``If you're gonna do this, all we want is
She isn't alone with her concerns. Fears of mass displacement of tenants have rifled
through Scott and Carver as residents sort through rumors about where they'll wind
up when the county's planned relocation and redevelopment commences. And, at a tenant
association meeting last week, an even larger question loomed: Will they be able
The debate over redevelopment has fractured the inner-city community, dividing neighbors
into three groups: those who want it; those who don't; and a growing, third group
that is urging revisions to the current construction plan. The rancor has spilled
over to the Scott tenant council, where supporters of the plan have attempted to
oust the president, who doesn't support it.
The redevelopment, which the county estimates will cost more than $106 million,
is part of a federal program that is transforming crowded housing projects into
middle-class communities in dozens of cities.
In 1999, the Miami-Dade Housing Agency was awarded a $35 million HOPE VI grant to
assist with a radical renovation of one of Miami-Dade County's most blighted sections.
Over the next five years, more than 800 public housing units within the two developments
are slated to be torn down and replaced with 371 homes and town houses. Another
150 scattered homes are planned off-site, but within the target redevelopment area.
Other amenities such as child care, job and business training, credit counseling
and expanded healthcare also are expected.
County housing officials say those homes, plus the 469 vouchers available for tenants
who want to find homes in the open market, more than adequately provide housing
options for Scott and Carver residents.
``We want to find out what residents want or expect,'' said Alphonso Brewster, assistant
director of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency. ``All we're getting is a lot of negativism
from one side. We've provided a lot of information from our end on how HOPE VI will
Brewster said there hasn't been much information released about relocation. He noted
that a relocation service provider soon would be announced.
HOPE VI developments have drawn criticism in other cities, such as Chicago and Atlanta,
and are under scrutiny by housing experts who praise the intent but question whether
it actually benefits low-income residents.
Georgia Tech Professor E. Larry Keating has authored two papers on Techwood, a HOPE
VI complex in Atlanta that has been cited as a model in redevelopment. In an interview
Friday, he said only 78 of 1,119 families living in the Atlanta project returned
after the redevelopment.
Keating said the impact was similar to the urban renewal experiments of the 1950s
and '60s that displaced thousands of black residents.
``If there was ever any excuse for not relocating people properly the first time
around through urban renewal, there's no excuse now for not relocating people with
full relocation benefits,'' he said.
At a Scott tenant association meeting last week, there was no praise for the plan.
Instead, Beulah Thomas and others complained that the new development offered too
few housing options for severely low-income residents. Of the 371 units on the original
site, only 80 are public housing. Another 135 are public housing with an option
Thomas called vouchers useless because landlords are reluctant to rent to low-income
``The only way I'd take a voucher is to put it toward the purchase of a home,''
Attorney Charles Elsesser, attorney with Florida Legal Services who is assisting
the tenants, pointed out that even if landlords are willing to accept the Section
8 certificates, larger families would have difficulty finding rental homes.
``If you have six kids, where in Dade County can you find an apartment for those
kids and a husband? If you do find one, it may last a year or two,'' grumbled Thomas.
Scott tenant association President Octavia Anderson -- who earlier this year survived
an attempt to oust her from the board -- presented tenants with a proposed list
of demands to present to housing officials.
One of the demands calls for the county to guarantee that all current residents
will have a home within the HOPE VI target area. They also want lease and mortgage
assurances in writing before anyone relocates.
Some relief may be on the way. Miami-Dade Commissioner Dorrin Rolle is expected
to introduce a resolution for development of 175 additional affordable housing units
in the target area at the next commission meeting. If approved, it would push the
number of new units to almost 700.
Brewster said Scott and Carver tenants will be entitled to all HOPE VI amenities,
even if they move from the target area.
``Just because you take a voucher or move into [other] public housing, you're still
entitled to the same services,'' Brewster said.
But Beulah Thomas said she has struggled too much to give up the neighborhood she
``This is promised land. I'm not going anywhere.''