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Feb. 07, 2003 - Miami Herald

Opponents of HOPE VI redevelopment plan gain allies

BY Andrea Robinson

Tenants who are fighting Miami-Dade County's plans to redevelop two inner-city housing projects got a boost Thursday when several well-known community groups announced they would take up their cause.

The primary focus of the new organization is to get guarantees from Miami-Dade Housing Agency that all residents of James E. Scott and Carver housing projects can return to the neighborhood once construction is completed. Some members of the group criticized the plan as a form of ``black removal.''

The housing agency plans to raze old project buildings to make way for nearly 400 single-family and town homes.

The Rev. Richard Bennett, executive director of the African American Council of Christian Clergy, said coalition members are not opposed to revitalizing the neighborhood, one of Miami-Dade's poorest areas. However, they are concerned that people with higher incomes would benefit instead.

''We don't want a new group to come in here. It's only fair that [former tenants] get a chance to come back,'' Bennett said.

The redevelopment project, known as HOPE VI, is underwritten in part by a $35 million federal grant in the Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere program.

That program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been widely praised as a way to lift blighted communities.

County housing officials have insisted that tenants have had chances to voice their opinion throughout the process.

''There is a process in place for individuals to participate in the HOPE VI program. That's why we have our task force meetings,'' said Sherra McLeod, MDHA spokeswoman.

For 18 months, protests mostly have come from a small group of poor tenants from Liberty City projects.

Now they are joined by an organization called the Community Coalition to Fix HOPE VI. Members are from a cross-section of civil rights and liberties organizations such as the NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Miami, Haitian Women of Miami, Miami Workers Center, SAVE Dade, Brothers of the Same Mind and the clergy council.

Critics charge that the changes brought by HOPE VI would price many former residents out of their neighborhood. It also scatters them in areas far from their families and support system.

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, president of the Miami ACLU, cited a national report released last year that said only about 11 percent of former tenants returned to other HOPE VI redevelopments around the country.

''HOPE VI is an abysmal failure,'' Rodriguez-Taseff said. ``It will be on the heads of the county commissioners if they allow developers to trump over the needs of community people.''