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6/2/02 - Miami Herald

Dade's public housing slowly being integrated
By Andrea Robinson

In the beginning, Gail Williams thought a long-sought plan to desegregate Miami-Dade public housing was hopeless. But four years into her job as chief coordinator for the agency charged with helping the county reach integration, she sees some progress.

Williams runs the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence. Its workers have encouraged more than 1,000 black, Hispanic and white residents to move into neighborhoods dominated by people who don't look like them.

''Our mission is to encourage [them] to accept desegregative housing opportunities,'' Williams said.

In the fair-housing world, that translates into a participant's moving to a neighborhood with less than 65 percent of his or her race or ethnic group.

HOPE's partnership with the Miami-Dade Housing Agency started in 1998, with the approval of the so-called Adker consent decree, named for the late Overtown community leader. In its settlement of the class-action suit, the agency agreed to create a special list of blacks who qualified for public housing, dating back more than 50 years.


Approximately 11,000 people made the list. Tenants were positioned based on the date they moved into public housing. The No. 1 slot went to someone who applied in 1946.

The people are screened by the housing agency to make sure they are still eligible for housing subsidies. Those who qualify are sent to HOPE for counseling, along with nonblacks who want to live in one of the county's more than 10,400 public housing units.

Williams says integration is coming, albeit slowly.

Since August 1999, when the first fair-housing center opened, about 1,065 people have attended group counseling sessions. Participants, such as Kim and Anthony Ancrum, learned tips on how to search for a home, how to interact with a prospective landlord and how to spot signs of potential abuse or discrimination.

The Ancrums, parents of six children ages 2 months to 13, previously lived in public housing in South Miami-Dade and became part of the Adker class settlement. In March, they used a voucher to move into a four-bedroom, two-bath home in Leisure City.


''It's made such a difference,'' Kim Ancrum said. ``We were piled up on each other, and there was no space for the children. When we came here, there was such a change in them. A burden came off of me.''

Of the 832 clients from the Adker pool who have gone through counseling, 146 have moved into nonblack neighborhoods. Another 116 opted to relocate into predominantly black areas. The others either are still looking, or the vouchers expired before they could locate housing.

While those numbers may seem small, they outpace the number of Hispanics and whites who have agreed to relocate to public housing, largely inhabited by blacks.

So far, 233 nonblacks have attended counseling. Of those, 76 accepted the units that were offered to them. However, 106 declined offers, and the others are still looking.

But Williams said there's reason to be optimistic.

''The number of desegregative moves outpaces'' the others, she said. ``They're utilizing vouchers and helping integrate this county. A year ago, it wasn't that way.

``The numbers aren't great, but now we feel better.''