Monday, July 27, 2015

Mixed income at Liberty Square "not realistic"

UPDATED 7/27 at 5:45 pm

By John Dorschner

     Hopes that a revitalized Liberty Square will include  mixed-income housing just aren't realistic, says a veteran affordable housing expert.
    "You can always do affordable housing in a low-income area," says Doug Mayer. "But are you going to entice other people to come to Liberty City" to rent market-rate apartments? "It's not very realistic."
Doug Mayer

    Mayer, president of Stone Soup Development, has long been associated with nonprofit developers of affordable housing. Earlier this year, he met several times with the Liberty Square residents' council to discuss their ideas for  Mayor Carlos Gimenez's idea for a $200-million plus redo of  Liberty Square, which currently has 700-plus units.
    The mixed-income issue is critical because many sociologists and New Urban city planners believe that segregating low-income residents in large projects is a recipe for economic failure -- with so many single mothers on welfare and children who can't see alternative ways of life around them. 

                       "HEART IN RIGHT PLACE"
    "I believe Michael's heart is in the right place," Mayer says, referring to Michael Liu, the county director of public housing who arrived in Miami last year.

     But Mayer believes that getting middle class residents to move to Liberty City is not a likely scenario.  He says: "If my mixed income the county means a mix of affordable units, that is some at 33 percent, 60 percent, 80 percent of average median income, perhaps at 120 percent of AMI, that is possible, but true market-rate units are not likely to succeed."
    At present, a county panel is evaluating the plans of six companies bidding to redo Liberty Square. "It will be very interesting to see what they come up," Mayer says.
    He believes the chances for mixed-use -- retail as well as residential -- makes sense, particularly along the well traveled streets on the edges of the project.
    Mayer thinks it would be better to set aside 150 to 200 units in the redevelopment for home ownership, which would require government subsidies, and some could use Section 8 vouchers for mortgage payments.
       These owners would likely still be low-income -- perhaps 80 percent of the poverty level -- but they would likely be persons who have jobs, albeit low-paying, and would add some economic diversity to the ultra-low-income profile of current residents, many of whom have income at 30 or 40 percent of the poverty level.
    Mayer originally pitched the county on another idea: Putting its developer's fee of 30 percent back into Liberty Square, allowing for desperately needed social services that would make the revitalized pubic housing project more than just a bunch of new buildings.
    "Unfortunately, the county decided to take the developer's fee," Mayer says.

                          LACK OF SOCIAL SERVICES
    Lack of social services is a crucial issue for Liberty Square. After the 1980 riots, state and federal commissions vowed to change the dire poverty and unemployment in the project commonly known as Pork 'n' Beans. But the latest census data shows that the poverty is still as bad as it always was.
    "I've been in Miami for over 30 years. There have been promises made every four or five years for Liberty City and Overtown," Mayer says. Sometimes the money isn't available. Other times, the money "doesn't get to the right people, or the programs don't really benefit the community."
    For the remake of Liberty Square, Mayer hopes that one of the two nonprofit bidders is selected for what the mayor calls Liberty Square Rising.

                            NONPROFITS HAVE HEART
    "I have worked for nonprofits my whole career," says Mayer, including a time with Carrfour Supportive Housing, one of the bidders. "Their heart is in the right place, especially in a project like this. ...
    "A lot of different people can put up the buildings but when the rubber hits the road," about what's best for residents, that's a different story.
    He's particularly interested in the bid of Community Housing Partners, a large Virginia nonprofit with 40 years of experience. For Liberty Square, it's partnering with local groups, including an alliance of pastors led by R. Joaquin Willis, pastor of Church of the Open Door in Liberty City.
    The nonprofits are likely to face stiff competition from two politically connected for-profit companies: RUDG, a subsidiary of the Related Group, led by the powerful Jorge Perez, and Atlantic Pacific Communities, which has taken over some properties and executives of the Carlisle Development Group, which is under federal investigation.
    For-profit companies "will do it in the most expeditious way to get their profit, but sometimes it's not the best way," Mayer says.
    He cites the remodeling of the Royalton Hotel, a 1920s structure in downtown Miami redone as affordable housing units for the elderly. The work was a partnership between the nonprofit Carrfour and the for-profit Carlisle. Carlisle was able to call the shots because it had gotten most of the funds for the work.
    "The original windows were steel casements. Carlisle's position was 'We don't have to replace the windows. We'll just put the hurricane glass inside.' Carlisle didn't care. Once it was rehabbed," it was done with the project.
    "Two years later, the windows were leaking," Mayer recalls. Carrfour had to replace them at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Bidding War Begins for Liberty Square

UPDATED 7/25 to include Edmonson connection

By John Dorschner

       Six bidders are battling it out for the $200-million-plus redo of Liberty Square:
       One has strong political connections. Another with a political connection is linked to a federal criminal investigation. And yet another has raised questions in its battle for government contracts.
        There's also a national investment company and and a couple of local nonprofits with histories of commitment to affordable housing.
    The bidding process is likely to be closely watched. 

    The officers of a major Miami affordable housing company are said to be facing indictments. The past of public housing is strewn with scandals and delays, some of them chronicled in Pulitzer-winning series House of Lies, which ran in The Herald in 2006.
     Andres Duany, an internationally known Miami architect, recently complained that in the past he has found the political maneuvering for public housing in Miami to be "disgusting."
    While much of the media attention is likely to concentrate on the political contest to win the contract, the larger issue remains whether a new development will lead to an improvement in the lives of the residents of Liberty Square.
    In 1980, the public housing project was at the heart of the McDuffie riots. Local, state and national leaders vowed then to fix the area's pervasive poverty and unemployment, but the latest census data says that the same problems still persist 35 years later.
    The companies who submitted bids by the July 9 deadline: 

    * RUDG -- The affordable housing unit of Related Group,  a big, experienced developer led by Jorge M. Perez, one of the most powerful figures in Miami-Dade politics.
    RUDG was slammed for its political connections by Miami New Times earlier this year. 
    The issue -- County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro 11persuaded his colleagues to accept a no-bid $7.6 million deal for RUDG to renovate a 34-unit building in the Shenandoah area,  New Times reported that Barreiro steered another $3 million to RUDG in a taxpayer loan that will likely be forgiven.
    Perez doesn't need the money. According to Forbes, he's worth $3.1 billion in 2015. But there's a long-standing American tendency for politicians attempting to curry favor with the wealthy and powerful.
    One example of Perez's political strength: the art world.
    While major collectors like Marty Margulies, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and the Rubell Family built their own art museums in Miami without government subsidies, the powerful Perez managed to get $100 million in taxpayer funds from the county and a hugely valuable bayfront park property from the city to create the Perez Art Museum Miami.
    According to the county's website, RUDG is represented by lobbyist Cristina Lumpkin.

    * Atlantic Pacific Communities. It's a two-year-old subsidiary of a  fourth-generation, family-owned business.
      The subsidiary was spawned in 2013 to take over some of the assets of the Carlisle Development Group, a huge affordable housing company that came under federal investigation. Several Carlisle executives, including Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Naylor, moved to Atlantic Pacific to handle the projects.
    The county commission allowed the transfer of the county-backed projects to Atlantic Pacific with minimal discussion on the urging of Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whom the Herald has described as the biggest benefactor of Carlisle political donations. She has been a strong supporter of Carlisle projects, many of which are in her district.
    Later, the Office of the Inspector General of Miami-Dade said it wanted to monitor the transfer of assets to make certain there were no improprieties.

    Last month, three officials of another housing company were charged with getting $7.2 million in kickbacks while partnering with Carlisle. The Herald has reported that indictments of some Carlisle executives may be coming.
    Associated Pacific spokeswoman Jessica Wade Pfeffer said the company can't make any comments because of the county-required "cone of silence" for bidders.
    Its lobbyist at the county is Roosevelt Bradley, who registered in February.


   * Centennial Management.  It's led by Lewis Swezy, no stranger to bitter housing struggles, including one against the Related Group.
    Centennial's website says the Miami Lakes company specializes in affordable housing and lists 14 properties, including a development on the site of the old Miami baseball stadium. It boasts that Swezy has over a quarter-century experience.
    Much of that was partnering with his mother, Ruby, a onetime Hialeah council woman, in Swezy Realty.
    In 1998, Herald investigative reporter Ronnie Greene questioned Ruby's and Lewis' political maneuvering in an article headlined: "A 'Comedy of Errors' delays new housing."
    In a bid to restore three dilapidated county public housing projects, the Swezys ranked third among competitors. But the Swezys hired lobbyist Rodney Barreto, who was close to Mayor Alex Penelas and they were awarded the contract.
    Related Group, one of the higher ranked firms, objected vehemently, Greene reported. "Our assumption was that this project would be awarded upon the objective criteria, not subjective criteria added after the proposal," Related complained to the county.
    Eventually, after a huge public outcry, all the bids were thrown out and the process restarted.
    In 1999, the mother-son battled in Hallandale Beach to buy a property, winning a contract 4-1 even though the agenda recommended giving the contract to another country. A Herald reporter called the switch "an amazing turn of events."
    Centennial shows no lobbyist registered with the county.        

    * Carrfour Supportive Housing. Its website describes it as a "nonprofit organization established in 1993 by the Homeless Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Carrfour develops, operates and manages innovative housing communities for individuals and families....
    "As the leading not-for-profit provider of supportive housing in Florida, Carrfour has supplied homes for more than 10,000 formerly homeless men, women and children since its founding."
    Carrfour shows no active county lobbyist.

   * Community Housing Partners Corporation and Miami Waymark 2.0 Joint Venture, LLC., a Joint Venture.    Community Housing Partners, a nonprofit headquartered in Virginia, describes itself as a specialist in affordable homes working in the Southeastern United States for 40 years. It has built 5,000 multi-family housing units.
    Miami Waymark was incorporated last year. Its corporate filing states it's led by Matthew Lawrence, with offices at 6008 NW 8th Avenue, on the edge of Liberty City. 

    Lawrence is also listed as a trustee of the Church of the Open Door, which is located in the same block as Waymark's offices.
    Miami Waymark is a joint venture with Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida, a nonprofit that works primarily with residents trying to buy their first homes and owners facing foreclosure. It is led by Arden Shank.
    None of the three entities appear to have registered county lobbyists. 

    *Miami Redevelopment Partners.  A Florida company incorporated in March, its officers match those of national developer, Gardner Capital, based in Missouri.
    Gardner's website describes as an "affordable housing developer, investor and syndicator with a historical focus on state and federal low income housing tax credits, as well as renewable energy production facilities."
    The website says Gardner has "developed, invested in and sponsored over $500 million of equity in  affordable housing units serving more than 55 communities."
    Jeffrey Kottkamp registered as a lobbyist with the county on June 30.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Leading planner: Politics to blame for Liberty City problems

By John Dorschner 
Andres Duany
    Andres Duany, an internationally respected urban planner and architect, blames politics for the lack of development in Liberty City.
     "Basically there are handlers of the government subsidies and they don't want anyone interfering. ... It's disgusting."
      He said a "huge mafia" works to control the government funds that finance considerable housing in Liberty City and don't want outside developers or urban planners like Duany interfering in their business.
       Duany said this some weeks ago when I asked him: Why has an area like Wynwood, longtime home to Puerto Ricans of modest income, surged with private development in recent years, while Liberty City, longtime home of poor African Americans, continues mired in poverty with too many vacant lots, boarded up store fronts and run-down buildings?
    Duany made the comment during an interview for a profile on him and his partner-wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, for the Biscayne Times (available HERE).
    He said it before an intense political feud erupted in the press over the $200-million redevelopment of  the 700-unit Liberty Square public housing project. The feud involves Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, whose daughter Raquel is running for county mayor against the current county mayor, Carlos Gimenez, whose administration conceived of the elaborate remake.
    Related Group Involved

    The remake is likely to get further politicized as one of the six bidders who submitted proposals by the July 9 deadline was RUDG LLC, connected with mega-developer Related Group, led by Jorge M. Perez, a major player in local politics.
    The question of Wynwood vs. Liberty City was sparked by an observation from Joe Oglesby, former editorial page editor of The Miami Herald, when I talked to him in May, on the 35th anniversary of the McDuffie riot.
Joe Oglesby

    Oglesby observed how many areas -- including South Beach, the Design District, Coconut Grove and others -- have been transformed in the intervening decades while in many ways Liberty City is “worse today than it was before the riots in 1980.”
    Before, the area had “a fair number of middle class,” people who moved out after the riots, Oglesby said. “And the businesses are not there. There’s some economic activity – government offices, FPL’s office – but Northside Shopping Center is worse today than it was then. It’s almost a flea market. Major retailers are gone.”
    Duany is a supporter of Hope VI projects -- a New Urbanism concept started in 1992 intended to revitalize the worst public housing projects by transforming them into mixed-income spaces in which the poor would live among the middle class. More than 200 projects were completed, at an expense of more than $5 billion.

    Attacked by Left and Right
    "Hope VI was attacked from the right because it was considered too good for the poor. It was attacked by the left wing because it deconcentrated poverty, and there was a net loss of units," by having less clustering in small apartments, so instead of 1000 units, there were 600."
    Duany maintains that in many places, many of the old public housing units were empty because they were in such poor shape, but what happened in Miami was a mess of a different kind -- the redo of Scott Carver as a Hope VI project was miserably mismanaged by government officials, displacing hundreds of residents in a mire of delays lasting a dozen years -- such a disaster that The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer for it with a series called House of Lies.
    For board members of the Miami Workers Center, which advocates for the poor, Hope VI became a phrase for something that screwed the poor in the name of gentrification -- without giving them any say in how the changes were managed.
    A 2004 study of Hope VI by the Urban Institute, a lberal Washington think tank, found "some notable accomplishments" of reviving distressed public housing and served as "an incubator for innovations"  such as project financing by public-private partnerships.
    Conflict with city governments

    "Some projects have helped turn around conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods and have contributed to the revitalization of whole inner-city communities. However, HOPE VI implementation has also encountered significant challenges. Some HOPE VI projects have been stalled by ineffective implementation on the part of the housing authority or conflict with city government. In others, developments were simply rehabilitated or rebuilt in the same distressed communities, with little thought to innovative design, effective services, or neighborhood revitalization.
    "Most seriously, there is substantial evidence that the original residents of HOPE VI projects have not always benefited from redevelopment, even in some sites that were otherwise successful. This can be partly attributed to a lack of meaningful resident participation in planning and insufficient attention to relocation strategies and services."
    The new Liberty Square project is not formally a Hope VI project, but it is using many of its New Urbanism ideas -- middle class paying market rates for some units, mixed-use zoning that could include shops, perhaps even a super market.
    Michael Liu, a former Washington housing official who took over county housing last year, has been working assiduously to keep residents informed, including showing Liberty Square resident leaders similar projects, such as one in Tampa.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Why Shouldn't the Poor Live in Coral Gables?

By John Dorschner

    While the debate heats up about controlling the $200-million-plus redevelopment of Liberty Square, the politicians avoid one of the hottest questions: Why should housing for the poor be clustered in one area? 
    Some areas -- such as upscale Montgomery County, Maryland -- are requiring most new development to set aside 12.5 to 15 percent for affordable housing, spreading poorer residents around many locations.
    For the New Urbanists, such as Miami architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, this makes sense for many reasons:
Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk
It not only tends to promote integration of the economic classes but also can reduce traffic, since those with modest incomes might be able to live closer to work, avoiding long commutes to get to jobs in more affluent areas.
    Allowing places for the poor to live in affluent Coral Gables? Key Biscayne? On Brickell?
    "I've sat on a couple of committees that have tried to come up with inclusive zoning," said Plater-Zyberk, who was dean of the University of Miami school of architecture for 18 years. "The resistance locally is huge."
    Zyberk made the comment some weeks ago during an interview for a profile on her and her husband-partner, Andres Duany, for the Biscayne Times (available HERE).
    She said the resistance comes "mostly from the private market." Developers say, "That's a nice idea but they won't be able to afford the rent, if the poor lived with the wealthy."
    In fact, the view of the New Urbanists is that the wealthy would in effect be subsidizing housing for those less well off.  "The key is having a small amount" of affordable housing in any given neighborhood, "so there's no threat of overwhelming the neighborhood," Plater-Zyberk said.
    Such concepts might be an alternative to a place like Liberty Square, with its 700-plus housing units. In 1980, it was near the heart of the McDuffie riots that killed 18 and caused at least $100 million in property damage.

     After the riots, local, state and federal panels decried Liberty Square's intense poverty, lack of jobs and huge high school drop-out rates. They vowed to make changes. Thirty-five years later, the Census data shows that the same severe problems remain in the Liberty Square area.
    A recent Harvard study shows that when poor families are able to move to more affluent areas, their children do better in school -- and are more likely to find decent jobs as adults. Many sociologists believe that keeping the poor in public housing clusters tends to exacerbate dysfunctional trends.
    "Maybe you don't have to put affordable housing on the waterfront, where the highest prices and taxes can be had," Plater-Zyberk said, but some kind of compromises could be found to include affordable housing in zoning requirements -- if there was the political will for it.
    As it is, "we have what many cities have -- a kind of excess of wealth and an excess of modesty," Plater-Zyberk said. "It's a shame that's where it tends to be going."
    Marvin Dunn, a Miami historian and retired FIU professor, says that the central issue is not racism. He points to North Miami-Dade, where neighborhoods dominated by middle-class blacks have shown strong resistance to government attempts to build public housing projects in their areas.

From Montgomery County website
    Plater-Zyberk points to Montgomery County, an affluent suburban area in Maryland, as a model to emulate. It requires that developers of 20 or more units provide 12.5 percent to 15 percent of them for moderately priced housing.
    Even so, the Equal Rights Center, a Washington think tank, reports that the Montgomery County poor have a hard time using federally financed Section 8 vouchers to obtain affordable housing. A 2008 test found a 15 percent "discrimination rate against voucher holders in the county -- as evidenced by outright refusals to accept vouchers, limiting the use of vouchers, or imposing different terms and conditions for voucher applicants."
    Michael Liu, county director of public housing, said some weeks ago that "the jury is still out" on inclusionary zoning. "More research is needed."
Michael Liu
Liu said he's generally in favor of the concept, "but you have to run the numbers" to see what inclusionary zoning does to the overall market, whether it requires major rent increases on the market-rate units to subsidize the affordable units. 

     And if the "affordable" units are adjusted with higher rents to reduce the market-rate costs, then a poor person with a federal Section 8 voucher might not have enough money to pay for the apartment.
    One possible irony: Plater-Zyberk notes that the future of poor neighborhoods may change as sea levels rise. "One interesting thing is that the northwest section is the high ground, for the most part – so for the most part modest neighborhoods have the high ground."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Miami's Urban Design Revolution

    How Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk went from voices crying in the wilderness to being close to mainstream. Almost 30 years ago, I did a cover story on them for Tropic Magazine when their ideas seemed far-fetched and grandiose. Now they're reshaping Miami and many towns throughout the world. I revisit them in a cover story for Biscayne Times. Miami 21, the cities urban code, plus the Design District, even a new town for Mecca are part of their work. Their basic idea: Goodbye mall, hello Main Street. Get out of the car, stop carbon emissions, walk, take public transit. What's not to like? Full story available at