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2/19/02 - Miami Herald
Demolition of housing leaves many tenants in the lurch
By Andrea Robinson
Moving day at soon-to-be-demolished Scott Homes came several months ago, but Velma
Bailey still has no place to go.
That's not surprising in Miami, where the home rental vacancy rate is a scant 3
percent. The market is especially tight for people like Bailey, whose household
includes 10 children -- six are hers, and four are her sister's.
Both the Scott and nearby Carver housing projects, located between Northwest 19th
and 22nd avenues at 68th Street, are slated to be torn down and resurrected as mixed-income
Last fall, a first group of tenants was given the option of moving into another
public housing unit or accepting Section 8 vouchers to pay for rental homes and
apartments in the private marketplace. The vouchers vary in value, based on family
size and the location of a qualifying home.
Octavia Anderson, president of the Scott Tenant Association, said dozens of tenants
have encountered problems. Some have been tentatively approved for homes only to
find their new residences rented to others before they could move. Others have been
flat-out rejected by landlords who refuse to accept vouchers. Then there are others
like Bailey, who can't find homes large enough for a big family.
''It's very hard. I went out as soon as I got my voucher because [HUD] only gives
you so much time,'' Bailey said. ``I need five or six bedrooms, and the highest
they go is one to four bedrooms.''
A federal lawsuit filed last September on behalf of Bailey and other tenants accuses
the Miami-Dade Housing Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
of attempting to unfairly displace residents at Scott and Carver. Trial is set for
The plaintiffs want the program halted and replaced with one that would provide
more homes for current tenants. They also want a judge to issue an injunction halting
demolition and relocation.
The suit alleges the rental vouchers are ''useless'' for large families because
few homes with four or more bedrooms exist in Miami-Dade's rental market.
The suit is the most serious challenge to the county's efforts to redevelop one
of its most blighted sections. Demolition at one section of Scott was supposed to
start last year, but those plans were put on hold.
Officials at Miami-Dade Housing Authority declined to speak about the relocation,
citing pending litigation. But one official said tenants have received updated lists
of landlords and local apartment guides. Under the relocation plan, residents would
vacate the 800-plus units at Scott and Carver in stages.
''It's their responsibility to find the apartment or town home they're looking for.
That's the freedom of choice,'' said spokeswoman Sherra McLeod.
JoNel Newman, a local attorney working with the tenants, said between 40 to 70 families
out of more than 200 of the first group have left Scott. She said the majority of
those have moved into other public housing units.
Susan Popkin, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, said the
situation at Scott has been played out in cities like Chicago, New York and Washington.
''If you have a tight rental market, then you will have a problem,'' said Popkin,
who is conducting a study of vouchers issued to Chicago's public housing tenants.
``Landlords in good neighborhoods have little incentive to take Section 8 vouchers
because they can attract quality tenants who can pay the rents they're seeking.''
Popkin also pointed out that landlords historically have been reluctant to participate
in voucher programs because of bureaucratic delays in getting their rent payments
on time or stringent federal participation guidelines.
A specialist with the company that is monitoring Miami-Dade's public housing desegregation
efforts as part of a 1998 lawsuit settlement said she's experienced difficulty finding
homes for large families. But, she said, there are other hurdles, particularly with
''They're not comfortable moving someplace where they're not close to their doctor
or their children,'' said Gail Williams of Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence.
``They don't want to move to South Dade.''
Williams said that some tenants resist moving into attached buildings such as apartment
complexes because of the resemblance to public housing.
Bailey, the tenant who's been hunting since October, remains at Scott in two adjacent
apartments that have been combined. She estimates she has spent $400 on gasoline.
Under HUD rules, she must find a house with at least five bedrooms to accommodate
She attempted to rent a six-bedroom home in Country Walk, but never heard back from
the landlord. Now someone else is in the house.
``My kids see children get killed every day. I don't have to be close to Liberty
City. I've been ready to move.''