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4/19/05 - Miami Herald
Opening doors in Overtown
Federal government helps low-income families buy homes at a new
BY ANDREA ROBINSON
The high and mighty, from Washington, D.C., and Miami City Hall, came
out to welcome Ollie Tillman to her new home Monday afternoon.
She almost couldn't believe it, but the evidence stood before her:
dozens of brightly colored Bahamian-style houses in Overtown.
''Finally, a promise that really was kept,'' Tillman said, her voice
breaking as tears streamed down her cheek.
``Something in this community finally came to fruition.''
Alphonso Jackson, head of the federal Department of Housing and Urban
Development, and U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., came to celebrate with
Tillman and other families who are purchasing their first homes with
federal assistance for down payments and closing costs.
The assistance and the new houses underscore the need for affordable
housing in South Florida's increasingly hot market. Locally, both
housing advocates and government officials have bemoaned the dearth of
rental and market units, as demand for both steadily increases.
Martinez, who was in charge of HUD when the program was approved by
President Bush in 2001, said he attended Monday's ceremony to share in
the success of the new homeowners. Local leaders, including county
Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, also attended.
Jackson announced that $50 million nationwide will be spent this year
to help low- and moderate-income home buyers through the federal
American Dream Downpayment Initiative. Miami-Dade County has received
Jackson credited Martinez with pushing through the down-payment program.
''I can remember when I moved into my first home,'' he said. ''God
bless you. We would not have been here today if it were not for''
Participants in the program were approved for help of up to $10,000
after they completed a HUD-sanctioned home buyer education program.
TURNAROUND FOR AREA
Their homes are located at the Villas of St. Agnes, a $16 million,
10-acre affordable housing development just north of downtown Miami,
the former site of a long-abandoned public housing project.
The Villas of St. Agnes project is a public-private partnership
involving the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust, Bank of America and St.
Agnes Rainbow Village CDC, among others.
Developers from the empowerment trust hope the project will stimulate
home-ownership opportunities for residents in the surrounding area.
Construction of more than 100 single-family homes and town homes is
expected to be complete in December, transforming a particularly
neglected section of the neighborhood. A separate wing of rental
housing for elderly tenants is expected to be finished next year.
The site had been shuttered since 1993; it was a neighborhood eyesore,
attracting vagrants and criminals.
County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, whose district includes
Overtown, pushed the idea for new construction there.
''This is a good place to put housing for first-time owners,'' Carey
Shuler said. ``These are people who want to stay and work in the
The project's three- and four-bedroom single-family homes originally
were priced from $95,000 to $115,000. Costs now range from $105,000 to
$125,000. About 25 percent of low- to moderate-income buyers will
receive some sort of subsidy toward their mortgage, down payment or
Empowerment Trust officials say the project is sold out. Additional
names are being placed on a waiting list.
For Shawna Everett, the wait is almost over. She hopes to move into her
three-bedroom, 2 ½-bath home in June.
Seated under the tent Monday, Everett fidgeted with a folded sheet of
paper that contained scribbled words -- notes that reflected her
thoughts about her new home. ''I'm nervous,'' she explained, leery of
speaking in front of the crowd.
When time came for her to speak, the paper was nowhere to be seen. Her
words flowed as easily as her tears.
''This is something I've waited for a very long time,'' she said.
``This is truly an American dream for me.''