Liberty Square Selection

                         Naming Liberty Square winner
                           may still be weeks away 


By John Dorschner

    The much-awaited announcement naming the bidder recommended to undertake the $200-million-plus remake of Liberty Square may not happen for some weeks. 
    Michael Hernandez, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said in an email Monday afternoon, "We anticipate a recommendation this week or next. The recommendation becomes a public record once Mayor Gimenez signs the recommendation. That comes later this month." 
     An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that the selection was expected to be announced this week, based on a quote that Hernandez gave Miami Times.
     After protests about delays from black residents and an editorial in The Miami Times complaining about the continuing secrecy of the five-month process, the Times quoted Hernandez as saying: “The process has been followed exactly as it should be. The results … we anticipate the first week in December.”
     Six bidders -- two with strong political connections -- submitted applications in early July to redo the county's oldest and largest public housing project, the 753-unit, 66-acre Liberty Square constructed in 1937.
Liberty Square       Source: Google Maps

    The county's plan is to take $46 million (including $32 million in general bond funds) and leverage with funds from a private developer to create a $200 million-plus overhaul of the property in the heart of Liberty City.
    The county's selection committee -- consisting of public housing staff and selected community members -- has been examining the six bids under a "cone of silence" since July. The committee picks its top candidate in a complex scoring process and forwards that to the mayor. The county commissioners have final say. 

                  Pastors Protest at County Hall
    On Nov. 18, Andrea Robinson of Miami Times REPORTED that two pastors -- Pastor Johnny Barber of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church and Rev. Richard P. Dunn II of Faith Community Baptist Church -- led a group of protesters in matching lime-green shirts into the county commission chambers to complain about the continued secrecy of the selection. 
    A week earlier, Miami Times published an EDITORIAL  demanding information, calling the silence "egregious and insensitive.... No one should have to live with anxiety every day as what their home will look like, when will they have to move and where they will be going unless they impose the situation on themselves. ... It is time to tell the community the next step in the process; it is time to lift the cone of silence."

     The cone of silence is a long-standing county policy, intended to keep bidders from swaying elected officials.
     The county's idea is a complete transformation of Liberty Square, with a mix of public and private housing, having residents of various incomes, along with retail shops and perhaps even a supermarket or a high-rise. 
    "We are absolutely leaving that possibility to the developers," said Michael Liu, director of Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development, speaking to Miami Web News in June, before the bids were submitted. "We're not going to have any preconceived notions."
    Virtually everyone agrees that the dilapidated housing needs to be replaced, but critics question what the effort will do to change the area's patterns for segregation, poverty, crime and unemployment. (For more information on the larger ramifications of the project and affordable housing in Miami-Dade, click on the HOUSING STORY SO FAR tab on the right.)

              Two Bidders with Political Connections

    The six bidders include 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.
    Another powerful connection is offered by Atlantic Pacific Communities, a two-year-old subsidiary that includes former executives and assets of the Carlisle Development Group, a huge affordable housing company with close connections to county politicians. Its owner, Matt Greer, pleaded guilty this summer to profiting from secret kickbacks in tax-credit-funded affordable housing. None of the Carlisle executives who moved over to Atlantic Pacific were charged in the case.
    A third major bidder is a consortium:  Community Housing Partners Corporation and Miami Waymark 2.0 Joint Venture.  Community Housing Partners is a large Virgina nonprofit specializing in affordable homes. It appears to have local partners with Church of the Open Door in Liberty City and Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida, a nonprofit.
    A full list of all bidders and their backgrounds can be found HERE.
     The voting selection committee includes four staffers in the county's Public Housing department; Jose Galan, director of real estate development in the county's internal services department; Nathaniel Wilcox, People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality; Sara Smith, Liberty Square Resident Council; Adela Garcia, Housing Finance Authority; and Andrea Heuson, University of Miami School of Business.

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