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7/23/02 - Miami Herald

Housing program for needy criticized

By Andrea Robinson

HOPE VI, a federal program touted as a savior for the country's most decrepit public housing projects, has caused severe shortages and undue hardships for people who can least afford a place to live, according to a study by national housing advocates.

The study -- contained in a report titled ''False Hope'' by the California-based National Housing Law Project and other advocacy groups -- was released as Congress is about to consider whether to renew the $574 million program for another 10 years.

HOPE VI is designed to replace dilapidated public housing complexes with single-family homes.

But critics say there would not be enough new homes built to accommodate all the people being displaced. In fact, the majority of tenants would likely have to move away from their neighborhood and seek public or private housing elsewhere.

The redevelopment program is particularly controversial in Miami-Dade, which was included in the national study. A group of Liberty City tenants have squared off against county officials over a sweeping redevelopment plan.

''HOPE VI is knocking down public housing, which is available to the very lowest income people, and replacing it with housing that is less available to them -- but more available to people making higher incomes,'' said Chuck Elsesser, an attorney for the tenants.

Residents from the Scott and Carver homes, which have 880 units occupied mostly by large families, want plans redrawn to accommodate more of them. The fight has landed in federal court, with a trial date scheduled for the fall.

HOPE VI was launched in 1992 by the Clinton administration to reinvigorate the worst of public housing stock. The idea was to replace them with single-family homes that would attract low- and moderate-income families.

The local community, including tenants and government, were supposed to decide the composition of the redevelopments, which can include rentals and home ownership.

In the last decade, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded more than $4.5 billion in federal funds to renovate or raze 165 sites in 98 cities.

Three years ago, Miami-Dade landed a $35 million HOPE VI grant to assist with the redevelopment of Scott-Carver, two side-by-side projects between Northwest 68th and 77th streets and 19th and 24th avenues.


The ''False Hope'' report uses data about the program from HUD and the General Accounting Office. It says that a majority of the former project tenants have not benefited from the redeveloped communities -- which is what the Liberty City group contends.

Authors say the program's aim at lowering density in poor neighborhoods resulted in more than 40 percent fewer homes for those families.

''The purpose of the program is to help people in projects and that mixed income projects are better for tenants,'' said Elsesser. ``Nobody can disagree with that and it sounds very good. But is it accurate?''

Based on the data, only 11.4 percent of families from housing projects return to the neighborhood of newly built homes after construction is finished, the report states.

Another 30 percent get vouchers that are used to rent homes in the private marketplace and almost 50 percent are transferred to projects outside the HOPE VI area. The remaining families ''disappear'' from the agency's tracking system, the report says.

Only a few of the former residents ''can expect to live in [the] high-quality housing'' that results from a redevelopment project, authors said.

National housing advocates argue the current program should be revamped to allow residents greater participation in the planning of the new communities.

A spokesman with federal HUD would not comment specifically about the findings, except to say that some were inaccurate. He did not identify them.

''The program is in the midst of evaluation and reauthorization is coming,'' the official said, referring to a vote by Congress in September on whether to renew HOPE VI.

U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, the Miami Democrat who helped the Miami-Dade Housing Authority get the $35 million federal grant, said she is troubled about the displacement of residents. Meek, who is retiring from Congress, had been seeking another $1.5 million this year, most of which would go toward rehabilitating homes for displaced residents.


Earlier this year, Meek filed a bill that would allow local housing agencies like Miami-Dade's to convert unused housing vouchers to defray a portion of rehab and construction of homes in low-income neighborhoods.

In the last two years, the Miami-Dade Housing Authority has forfeited about $42 million in vouchers because clients could not find qualified rentals, Meek's aides said.

Meek still supports HOPE VI, but ''she'd like to see changes so it will accommodate all the people living in that community,'' said chief aide John Schelble.