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Miami Herald - October. 25, 2006


Money promised to boost housing, Overtown revitalization
City and community leaders unveiled plans for an arts district and a contribution toward affordable housing in Overtown

The city of Miami on Tuesday said it will put up $30 million in Community Redevelopment Agency funding to bring affordable workforce and middle-income housing to Overtown as part of a larger plan to reinvigorate part of the long-struggling neighborhood.

The cash infusion coincides with the release of a master plan for a Historic Overtown Folklife Village District. That area would contain more than 2,400 new housing units -- including projects already on the table -- and would be the nucleus of an arts district that could segue to the Performing Arts District a few blocks to the east.

Boundaries for the new district are Northwest Sixth Street on the south and Northwest 11th Terrace on the north; and Northwest First Avenue to the east and Northwest Fifth Avenue to the west.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, whose district includes Overtown, said Miami lacks a signature district to showcase black life and culture.

''It is time for us to have our own district,'' Spence-Jones said.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz applauded the concept. ''This effort will begin to return the area to its prior glory as a mecca of entertainment and culture,'' he said.

James Villacorta, executive director of the Southeast Overtown Parkwest CRA, said the $30 million allocation would come up for vote at a CRA meeting Monday evening. If approved, the funds likely would be used for home-buyer subsidies, interest buy-down programs and leverage to attract other investors.

More importantly, Spence-Jones said, the money will result in more affordable housing units for Overtown.


The concept for the folklife district was contained in a draft report released Tuesday by the South Florida Local Initiatives Support Corp.

A group of residents and business owners asked LISC, which raises private money for housing, to develop a comprehensive plan integrating economic development with a desire to return Overtown to its glory days of the 1940s and '50s.

The plan calls for new homes to draw people to sustain the new district, said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, chairwoman of the Overtown Folklife District Improvement Association.

Under the proposal, the new district would include at least two new mixed-use housing developments: Jazz Village would have housing and a workforce training school; Lyric Promenade would include low-income rental housing and a hotel.

Also included is the Crosswinds project, a mixed-use development that has drawn criticism from some neighborhood activists. The Crosswinds project would create condos, shops and offices, with a portion of units set aside for people with low incomes. The City Commission will consider a major use special permit for the project on Thursday.

LISC suggested that the district could support 2,402 new housing units. Almost half of those units would be sold at market rates, and the rest would be subsidized, said Anita Jenkins, LISC executive director.

The latest figures from the Florida Association of Realtors show the median sales price for a condo in Miami is $249,800.

According to Jenkins, the plan calls for 521 ''affordable housing'' units in the neighborhood for people earning between $29,718 and $44,577; another 402 ''low-income'' units for those earning between $18,945 and $29,718; and 281 units for people whose income is less than $18,574.


Under the LISC plan, the folklife district would contain the few structures that remain from Overtown's heyday: New Providence Masonic Lodge, Ward Rooming House, the Lyric Theater and the Longshoremen's building.

Improvement association member Phil Bacon said that with the CRA funding, the new district will lessen the number of people leaving.

''We want to create a safe and walkable community that is economically sustainable and will include the current residents,'' Bacon said.

Not everyone was happy with the plan.

Beatrice Gilbert, a member of Power U Center for Social Change, said she was disappointed that the Crosswinds project is still on the table.

Power U opposes that project, saying the housing units are priced beyond the incomes of Overtown residents.

''The other parts of the plan may be acceptable, but not Crosswinds,'' Gilbert said. ``We want something that