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9/7/01 - Miami Herald


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 control me."

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 rental market.

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 program.

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," Hines said.

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.