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9/7/01 - Miami Herald
CONFRONTATION AND LAWSUIT FUEL DEBATE ON HOUSING PLAN
BY Andrea Robinson
The heated debate over planned redevelopment of two Liberty City housing projects
turned ugly Thursday, even as tenants filed a lawsuit to halt demolition and the
removal of residents.
At one point tensions spilled over from a news conference to announce the lawsuit
to another building at James E. Scott Homes, where a small group of protesters confronted
an even smaller group of workers and supporters of the redevelopment plan.
More than a dozen Miami-Dade County police officers -- in eight patrol cars -- were
dispatched to the area as a buffer between the two sides.
"Just because you're in HUD housing it doesn't mean you have to take what you
can get," said Ernestine Worthy, one of the protest leaders and a spokeswoman
for a low-income housing group that filed the suit. "It doesn't mean you can
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami Thursday, accuses the Miami-Dade
Housing Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of attempting
to unfairly displace hundreds of residents at James E. Scott and Carver Homes by
demolishing the structures. It also alleges that the rental vouchers current tenants
can use to find new housing "will be a largely useless form of relocation assistance"
for large families because there are few homes with four or more bedrooms in Miami-Dade's
The suit claims that the federal HOPE VI grant funds are being used to finance replacement
housing that will be inaccessible and unaffordable to current residents and families
who are on the county's waiting list for public housing.
Named in the lawsuit are Miami-Dade County and Rene Rodriguez, director of the Miami-Dade
Housing Agency. It also names HUD and its director, Mel Martínez.
Miami-Dade Housing spokeswoman Sherra McLeod said Rodriguez would not comment because
"we can't comment on something we haven't seen."
In 1999, amid great fanfare, HUD awarded Miami-Dade Housing a $35 million grant
to assist with the reconstruction of the two developments and the revitalization
of the area.
County housing officials have selected a company to counsel residents about housing
options during the interim period. So far, two families have been relocated and
another 25 or so are in the final stages.
The suit is the latest -- and most serious -- challenge to the HOPE VI project,
which would redevelop one of the county's most blighted sections. Protesters have
long argued the county wants to displace poor tenants in favor of middle-class homeowners.
Attorney Charles Elsesser, who announced the filing, said the county and federal
housing officials should halt the project and return with a new plan that would
provide more homes for current tenants.
"People desperately need housing. If these are demolished, there is nowhere
for them to go," Elsesser said.
Attorney JoNel Newman, of the Florida Justice Institute, said the HOPE VI plan discriminates
against large families because it contains few options for them.
"One of the things the county did is eliminate all the large bedrooms in the
new plan. Large families have nowhere to go, and they have nowhere to go in Section
8," Newman said, referring to the commonly used name of the county's voucher
According to the lawsuit, after the redevelopment there will be only eight four-bedroom,
two five-bedroom and no six-bedroom units available in rental public housing.
Latoya McMath and Mendora Henderson, two Scott tenants who received vouchers earlier
this summer, both complained they were having problems locating new homes. They
were panicking because they had just received letters -- on county stationery --
saying the vouchers were expiring immediately.
Henderson, a mother of four, said she found four houses but the landlords refused
to accept vouchers from Miami-Dade County. "As soon as I showed them the vouchers,
they said, `I don't deal with the [county],' '' Henderson said.
Thursday, McMath and Henderson were among the protesters who marched across Northwest
22nd Avenue to demonstrate in front of the site's relocation office. The group crossed
paths with Lottie Hines, president of the Carver Tenant Association, who is working
with the county on the redevelopment.
Some protesters shouted at Hines, calling her "a traitor."
Hines held her ground, however.
"There is no amount of money [the county] can give me to sell my people out,"
She firmly supports the redevelopment.
"HOPE VI is here. There's a new development coming. Let me be a part of it
and get what I can out of it," Hines said.