County Commissioners have started to distant themselves from the developer that received the highest scores from the selection committee tasked with rating the six bids to re-do Miami-Dade's oldest and largest public housing project, Liberty Square.
By a 5-0 vote on Tuesday, the Commission's Strategic Planning & Government Operations Committee voted to send on to the full commission a resolution directing the mayor to review affordable housing projects of companies -- or related entities -- whose leaders have been found guilty of fraudulent kickbacks in federal court.
The purpose of the review: To determine "if the county has been the victim of any criminal activity."
The resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Barbara
"A number of those agencies may still be out there, under another name, with the same people, same addresses, sometimes same phone numbers," Jordan told the committee, "and we want to make sure that the county is not being taken for a ride on any of those projects, if any of those people have reconfigured themselves as another entity."
That description clearly fits Atlantic Pacific Communities, whose executives include Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Naylor and Vice President Liz Wong, both of whom held major positions in Carlisle, though neither has personally faced criminal charges.
|Related Urban's vision for public housing at Liberty Square|
Atlantic Pacific did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Related Urban, the developer who finished second in the selection committee scoring, was quick to jump on the committee's action. In a Wednesday letter to Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Related attorney cited the committee's actions as another reason as "the evidence continues to mount confirming that Atlantic Pacific Communities ... must be disqualified" from the Liberty Square bidding process.
The reference to "one evaluator" highlighted a difficult decision facing Mayor Gimenez, who must make the final decision on the selection committee's recommendations -- a decision that must then be approved by the county commission.
Most of members of the selection committee favored Related Urban, also known as RUDG, but Sara Smith,
With 155 points being the maximum, Smith gave A/P 154 points and RUDG 64. The other eight scorers gave RUDG scores from 131 to 148. Smith's scores were so different than the others that the head of the selection committee was required to report her behavior to the county attorney's office.
Smith told fellow committee members that she had not been impressed by "Albert Milo [head of Related Urban] and all of that coming into my community with a bunch of people trying to play like they were residents of Liberty City -- and they weren't."
The political problem is that Smith was the tenants' lone representative on the selection committee, and throwing her vote out might alienate many in Liberty City -- a situation duly noted by the Miami Times, the newspaper that focuses on black Miamians.
Carlisle and Atlantic Pacific have been strongly supported by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Liberty City.
When Carlisle ran into legal problems, the 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.
Edmonson's office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.
While Carlisle was involved in many questionable activities -- including once creating a tiny library in an attempt to get tax credits from the state -- Atlantic Pacific hasn't had problems -- until October, when the city of Miami sent a letter to Naylor saying it was concerned that, trying to fund the Seventh Avenue Transit Village II, the company apparently had given different construction cost figures to the city than it had given to the state and county.
Dotson cited the city's complaint in his letter to the mayor -- and noted that if Atlantic Pacific didn't count Carlisle's experience as its own, the company wouldn't be qualified to bid on the remake of Liberty Square.
While no one questions that Liberty Square, which dates back to 1937, needs new buildings, some experts doubt that the ambitious redevelopment will do anything to change the profound poverty, unemployment and crime that is linked with the project and surrounding areas. For more on that see the Housing Story So Far, available HERE.
Related Urban -- a wing of a company led by Jorge Perez, arguably the most powerful political figure in Miami-Dade -- came in with a highly sophisticated proposal that included a video presentation.
"A Distress Public Housing Project"
RUDG emphasized an underlying issue: New structures don't fix social problems:
“Liberty Square is a distressed public housing project that has a high concentration of poverty which has led to many social and economic challenges for the families that currently reside there. Related Urban understands that in order to create long lasting change in this community, it is essential to extend the scope of the redevelopment effort beyond housing, creating the need to engage with community based partners that can implement programs to support and strengthen families."
Related Urban has lined up an impressive list of supporters for the redevelopment, including the Miami Children's Initiative, YMCA, United Way, Florida Memorial University, the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Non-Violence and the Urban Construction Craft Academy.
These groups will work to promote early childhood education, job training (including classes for ex-offenders in Liberty City zip codes), youth mentoring programs and spaces for "mom and pop" business developments.
The Related proposed site would include space for a grocery store, small retail units, a K-8 charter school run by Academica and a clinic run by Jesse Trice Community Health Center.
Related Group proposes to build 1,034 units -- including 640 public housing units, plus 106 homes that would be privately owned and 288 mixed income apartment units. To get all of that into a site that now has 750 units, the developer proposes putting the public housing in eight-story mid-rise buildings.
Doug Mayer, a veteran affordable housing developer, has questioned whether it's realistic to expect Liberty Square to attract middle-income families to its new units. His views are available HERE.
Related Urban emphasized in its application that it has a long partnership working with the county's public housing department, recently completing "788 public housing units ... all of which were completed on time and under budget."
The Atlantic Pacific proposal would also include a charter school (K-12), a grocery store, 640 public housing units, 855 affordable housing rentals, 40 market rate rentals and 14 homes for sale.
|Atlantic Pacific's site planning|
A/P offers to give back 40 percent of its developer's fee, compared to 30 percent for Related Urban. Its package contains support from entities close to Liberty Square, including the Helping Hands Youth Center (located within the project) and Eric Thompson, a longtime Liberty Square activist who leads the Liberty City Community Economic Development Corp.
In the scoring process, the five county staffers all scored Related Urban over Atlantic Pacific. Besides Sara Smith, there were two other non-government voting members: Andrea Heuson, a University of Miami professor, who rated Related above A/P by a narrow margin (148-146), and Nathaniel Wilcox, of the People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, who ranked Community Housing Partners first, followed by Related and A/P. Community Housing is a Virginia nonprofit that partnered with a Liberty City church group and a local nonprofit affordable housing developer.
Related Urban will have support on the commission, which has long supported its projects -- including some no-bid work that has been criticized in Miami New Times.
One example of the power of Perez, Related's top exec, is seen in the art world. While other celebrated local art collectors -- such as the Rubell and de la Cruz families and developer Martin Margulies -- have paid personally for their own art museums, Perez received $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.