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June 4, 2010  - Miami Herald

Overtown condo owners seek help to repair aging buildings

Overtown condo owners protest the cost of repairs to their building
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Residents of Overtown's Town Park condos and co-ops are worried the cost of major repairs to their buildings could force them from their homes.

Town Park is a nine-acre, low-rise apartment complex built in 1970 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 40-year-old buildings are in need of repairs and residents cannot afford the special assessments to make them.

Residents took their concerns to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and Miami City Commissioner Richard Dunn II Tuesday at a meeting in Overtown.

The elected leaders brought along specialists to answer questions, including Rickert Glasgow of the county's Office of Community and Economic Development and James Villacorta, director of Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Overtown residents from Town Park Village, Town Park North and Town Park Plaza South took notes as officials explained the difference between a condo and a co-op and possible funding sources.

The Village and Plaza South are condos. North is a co-op. There are three separate by-laws, boards of directors and rules of procedure.

``I wish Arthur Teele was here to help us figure all this out,'' said resident Andrea Copeland, who attended the first meeting related to concerns about Town Park in 2004, when the late Miami Commissioner Arthur E. Teele Jr. presided as chairman of the Overtown Advisory Board.

Teele explained that a co-op owner ``is a shareholder who has an indivisible ownership of the piece of paper that owns the entity,'' according to the June 17, 2004, board minutes.

Fast forward to 2010 and residents await answers as to how to fix structural building problems and where to get funding for repairs.

Villacorta made it clear that there are two ``CRAs'' the other being the Community Reinvestment Act.

``We're here to tell you how the county can provide assistance to help you address your issues,'' said Glasgow.

But Glasgow warned the county is limited because the units are privately owned.

Throughout the three-hour workshop, both sides understood and traded acronyms like CDC, for Community Development Corp., CDBG, for Community Development Block Grant, and others.

``I'm representing both North and South and we're reaching out to you as we face paying our assessment fees,'' said Copeland, who came prepared with an outline of questions. Edmonson paused and applauded her for calling the meeting and taking a leadership role to help her neighbors.

One by one, folks raised their hands, waited to be recognized, and asked questions.

``Which agency will be on the hook to fund the co-op,'' said Don Patterson, president of Mt. Zion Developments. ``Is it the CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency], the city or the county?''

Facing $400 million in cuts this year, Edmonson conceded the county ``couldn't come up with that kind of money.''

Edmonson added: ``The co-op falls under HUD [Housing and Urban Development] and that's the federal government, so you're coming to the wrong place.''

Enter U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat whose district includes Overtown.

``We'll reach out to HUD and set up a meeting for you,'' said Joyce Postell, Meek's district director.

Led by Dunn, at the end of the meeting, everyone stood, held hands, bowed heads and prayed for help.

``This is about the American Dream,'' said Dunn. ``We're trying to help them find ways to keep their homes.''