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5/19/02 - Miami Herald

Housing project could favor seniors Plan for Scott may displace some families


Miami-Dade County officials may add hundreds of long-sought public housing units to a controversial Liberty City redevelopment project -- but the move could displace dozens of black single mothers and their children in favor of mostly Hispanic seniors.

More than 800 families live in the barracks-like apartments of the Scott and Carver housing projects. They worked with county officials four years ago to get a highly coveted HOPE VI federal grant to demolish those buildings and build a new community in the half-square-mile, impoverished neighborhood just outside Miami's city limits.

However, proposed additional units may be earmarked for Miami-Dade's growing elderly population, attorneys representing Scott Homes tenants in a lawsuit against the county discovered last week in a pretrial deposition. They also obtained a redrawn site plan that now includes three areas designated for elderly housing.

The Miami-Dade Housing Authority ''submitted revisions [of the project] to the Planning and Zoning Department, but no one knows about this,'' said Chuck Elsesser, an attorney with Florida Legal Services. He is representing Scott tenants seeking to force the county to include more family public housing at HOPE VI to accommodate all those who want to remain in the community.

The attorneys complained that housing officials did not inform tenants of the plan changes.

A concern with downsizing multi-unit projects like Scott and Carver is that subsidized housing is at a premium in Miami-Dade, where almost 64,000 people are already on a waiting list. Families account for about 60 percent of the list.

The units for older residents -- which would need approval by the Miami-Dade Commission and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- could change the physical, social and ethnic makeup of one of the county's most storied black neighborhoods.

The reason: The revamped site plan for the $100 million-plus project would add 357 subsidized units for senior tenants in a community built especially for families. Also, because 70 percent of the low-income seniors on the housing waiting list are Hispanics, they could be more likely to get many of the units.


County attorneys say any criteria on who would live there have not been established because the plan is only in the talk stages.

''It's hard to comment on something that has not happened,'' Assistant County Attorney Terrence Smith said.

A Housing Authority spokeswoman said Friday that the agency hasn't signed off on a new plan for HOPE VI. She said talks are ongoing as to how the community will look.

''There is no new redevelopment plan,'' said spokeswoman Sherra McLeod, adding that the agency has not submitted anything to HUD, as it would be required to do.

She said that a HOPE VI task force has discussed some proposals that include additional units for seniors.

''Nothing has been formally presented from the task force to us,'' she said. ``It's just discussions.''

However, a deposition of Housing Authority assistant director Joe Scafuti, obtained by The Herald, showed the agency had an architect draw up a revised plan that included the additional seniors units.

In the deposition, Scafuti stated that the redevelopment plan was changed in April after the design architect, Neil Hall, said the original site plan violated the county's master plan for Liberty City. The problem: The project wasn't dense enough.

Scafuti testified the county required 13 units of housing per acre, while the original plan called for only seven units. He also said the first phase of demolition of Scott Homes was scheduled for July.


McLeod would not comment on the deposition or any aspect of the litigation. But she said the original plan approved in 1999 is still in play.

''We don't think it violates the master plan,'' she said. ``We would not build anything that violates the comprehensive master plan.''

The larger Scott Homes was built in the 1950s, Carver Homes in the mid-1960s, both almost exclusively for families. The public housing units -- many inhabited by single mothers struggling to raise their children -- are sandwiched between Northwest 68th Street and the FEC railroad tracks, and between 19th and 24th avenues.

The seniors units would be an addition to the original redevelopment plan, which called for 371 single-family and townhomes. About 80 of those units are earmarked for public housing. The rest are for lease-purchase or outright ownership.

But critics say seniors housing usually means efficiencies and one-bedroom units -- too small to accommodate families under the strict federal guidelines. So more than half of the current Scott-Carver residents would most likely not be able to stay, even though most want to.

''It's good they're building homes, but they don't cover low-income families,'' said Tony Romano of the Miami Workers Center, a housing advocacy group. ''There's a concern,'' Romano added as he and other activists knocked on doors Friday to tell tenants about the housing plan for older residents.

They also told tenants about a hearing scheduled for Wednesday in U.S. District Court in downtown Miami. Tenants' attorneys are seeking an injunction to prevent any Scott buildings from being razed until their lawsuit is resolved.

The goal of HOPE VI is to bring radical change to city neighborhoods, with single-family homes replacing public housing complexes across the landscape. Several communities around the United States have undergone similar deconstructions, and many of the projects have been as contentious as this one.

HUD has increasingly supported the concept as it moves away from subsidizing public housing projects.

But housing officials have had a hard time selling the plan in some quarters of Liberty City. Critics say it is another attempt at ''urban removal'' -- using federal monies to tear down housing projects and replace them with subdivisions for moderate-income families. Many in Scott-Carver are not at that economic level.

County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, who represents the area, was heavily criticized last year by activists for not fighting more for the tenants. Since then, he has requested that the Housing Authority add more subsidized housing in the Scott-Carver vicinity specifically for those tenants.

Rolle said Friday the seniors units -- if approved -- would benefit some Scott residents, but he would look further into the displacement issue. ''There are a significant number of seniors there,'' he said.

He added that he, too, was frustrated about being kept in the dark about possible changes in the project.

''What irritates me about this whole thing is that [the housing department] knows about it,'' Rolle said. ``As much as I've been on the firing line about HOPE VI, I've got to read about it in the paper.''

Housing advocates say that under federal guidelines, the tenants are supposed to be informed of major changes associated with the project. And that didn't happen.

''The development they're tearing down is for families,'' said Octavia Anderson, president of the Scott Tenant Association and a frequent critic of the Housing Authority. ``So they should have units for families, especially large families.

``People need somewhere to go.''