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Miami plans to give $2M for home-building effort

Miami's budget -- awaiting final approval today -- includes money for an oft-criticized home-building effort in Model City.

By Michael Vasquez

In the roughly $491 million budget that Miami city commissioners are set to approve today, there's about $2 million to keep alive a controversial quasi-independent agency that's designed to build affordable homes in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

But the appropriation came with a cost, according to those familiar with recent budget talks:

The embattled executive director of the Model City Trust, Marva Wiley, had to go.

Earlier this month, Wiley submitted a letter of resignation, effective Oct. 31. She declined to comment.

The man who played an integral role in ousting her -- Miami City Manager Joe Arriola -- had plenty to say.

''She's incompetent, she hasn't done her job,'' Arriola told The Herald last week. The manager softened his tone somewhat Monday, saying he had nothing against Wiley personally.

Since 2000, Miami has poured millions of dollars into the Model City home-building effort, which completed its first new home only about a month ago.

City administrators and the Model City Trust have often blamed each other for the slow pace of construction -- and the sometimes-questionable expenditures associated with it.

But last month, basking in the accomplishment of their first home, both sides vowed greater cooperation.

The collegiality didn't last long. When asked whether the Model City Trust would have survived had Wiley not voluntarily departed, Arriola responded, ``I don't work in hypotheticals.''

Arriola lacks the power to fire Wiley directly, and city commissioners, not him, approve the budget. Nevertheless, the manager enjoys the support of most commissioners on many issues.

State Sen. Frederica Wilson, who has been heavily involved in city discussions over the trust's future, said Arriola made his position clear during negotiations earlier this month.

''He kept saying he couldn't work with Marva [Wiley],'' Wilson said. ``I don't want them to not fund the trust, and I saw that coming.''

An early version of the city budget submitted prior to Wiley's resignation included no money this year for the trust, which could have crippled the agency.

Wilson, a Miami Democrat, said Wiley had become the target of blame for the home-building mishaps, including some mistakes that were not her fault. Still, Wilson said she would not fight to keep Wiley from losing her post -- the important thing was to make sure the trust survived.

N. Patrick Range Sr., chairman of the Model City Trust's Board of Directors, said the high-stakes haggling left him with a sour taste.

''Marva [Wiley] has worked very diligently at her job,'' Range said. ``We seem to have been put in a situation of Marva resigning or putting the whole project in jeopardy. . . . The community deserves a lot more than that.''