Three Commissioners Commit for Housing

By John Dorschner
    Three county commissioners promised Monday night to push for $10 million for affordable housing in the next county budget, but a deputy mayor said the county couldn't afford it.
    The statements came before an estimated crowd of 1,500 during the annual Nehemiah Action Assembly,  hosted by PACT, a group representing 38 religious organizations in Miami-Dade. 

PACT meeting at New Birth Baptist Church on Monday night

    PACT was seeking commitments from public officials to support three major planks in the platform of the grassroots organization:
    * A reduction in juvenile arrests, which can ruinous for a peron's future prospects.
    * An end to out-of-school expulsions because they're likely to lead to more free time for kids to make trouble on the streets.
    * $10 million from the county for affordable housing, to take at least small steps toward helping the estimated 250,000 Miami-Dade families who are spending more than half their income on housing.
    PACT President Monsignor Chanel Jeanty of St. James
Monsignor Chanel Jeanty
Catholic Church said the group hadn't taken a position on the more ambitious proposal for inclusionary zoning -- requiring developers to pay into an affordable housing trust fund that could mean tens of millions, perhaps even hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable housing.
    That idea is vehemently opposed by many local developers, but more than 500 communities nationwide have taken some action on inclusionary policies.
    At Monday's meeting, at New Birth Baptist Church, Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said that in the next few months she planned to propose a county ordinance for a
Commissioner Levine Cava at the meeting 
"linkage fee," a variant of inclusionary policies, requiring developers to pay into an affordable trust fund. Levine called decent, affordable housing "a basic right."
    Levine Cava, Commissioner Xavier Suarez and a representative for Commissioner Barbara Jordan all vowed to work to get $10 million from the general fund for housing. The other 10 commissioners ignored the meeting.
    Suarez pointed out that he had already gone on record saying that up to $50
Commissioner Suarez at New Birth Baptist
million should come from the general fund for housing.
    However, Deputy Mayor Russell Benford said that the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez had other priorities -- including "keeping the streets safe," parks and juvenile justice -- and one of those areas would have to be cut for the county to add $10 million to affordable housing.
    The format of the evening was to call government officials one by one to the podium and ask them about the issues deemed important by PACT -- People Acting for Community Together -- which was founded in 1988.
    "We're here to make a difference," said Rabbi Gary Glickstein of Temple Beth Sholom.
    Police Chiefs Juan Perez, for the county, and Rodolfo Llanes, from the City of Miami, attended and spoke in favor of giving citations to juveniles, rather than arresting them, whenever possible.  A spokesman for the state attorney's office also agreed.

                             "They're Angry"

        In an interview before the meeting, board member Joann Smith, pastor of New Direction Christian Center in Miami Lakes, said many of her members have trouble finding affordable housing to rent or to buy.
Pastor Smith

     "They're angry," Pastor Smith said. "Angry not against people, but against the situation." Even working families earning $90,000 a year are struggling to find housing. she said.
    Many in the central, or inner cities, are now being forced out as high-rises soar along the coastline, and they've having to move to distant suburbs, which are often far from their workplaces.

        Also in attendance Monday night was Michael Liu, the county's director of public housing. 

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