Residents want construction NOW

By John Dorschner

   While some pastors said the bidding process was so skewed that it should start over, Liberty Square resident Takeria Allen had  one word to describe when she thought construction should begin:
Mayor Gimenez speaks to Liberty Square residents

    Allen was among the hundreds packed into the Liberty Square community center on Thursday evening to hear Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other speakers explain what Related Urban proposed to do in its $300-million redevelopment of Dade's oldest and largest public housing project.
    Allen's friend, who asked to be called by her initials, MD, said that postponing construction for a year or longer didn't make any sense to her. "They need to get it done now."
    Allen's apartment has a stinking garbage can outside her window that attracts flies and maggots. MD has crumbling walls, leaking pipes and cracks in the ceiling. It's been years, both said, since there have been any serious repairs at Liberty Square.
    Gimenez and others talked about a long list of new benefits available to new residents, including training for construction jobs, a new community center, a on-site major grocery store and much more, including good looking kitchen counter tops and energy-efficient appliances -- but Allen and MD were won over as soon as they heard AC.
This was the visual that had the audience murmuring with approval

    The Related Urban proposal offers central air with a thermostat in each unit, plus a washer, dryer and dishwasher.
    At present, residents must provide these appliances themselves, and even if they buy them, they often couldn't afford repairs when the machines break down.
    Gimenez selected Related Urban after a lengthy -- and  disputed -- bidding process. The county commission and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must approve the deal before construction can begin.
    Thursday night, Related Urban executive Albert Milo said construction could begin "before the end of the year" if the commission promptly approves a contract.
    The original proposals had residents moving out of Liberty Square temporarily as the project was rebuilt, but in a second round of bids, Related Urban found a way that all residents could remain in Liberty Square during construction, if they wanted.
    Many residents feared that if they had to leave temporarily that they would never be allowed back -- a situation that happened in the disastrous Scott Carver rebuild several years ago.
    On Thursday many residents questions concerned how many times they might have to remove within the project during construction. Gimenez replied that perhaps 10 percent would have to move twice, but 90 percent would only move once -- straight into a new unit.
    Milo said Related Urban had been talking to the Liberty Square residents council and had earlier in the week reached agreement on five-page memorandum of understanding, adding additional benefits to the proposal.

    The Miami Times reported earlier this week that Eric Thompson, a Liberty Square activist who had criticized the selection process, said that he now supported the Related Urban plan. "I look forward to the change."
    Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who on Monday had come to Liberty Square to say that the mayor had "disrespected" her and the community in the selection process, struck a softer tone on Thursday: "I'm not trying to stop the project,” but she would be sure residents' views were heard at the commission. "I can make certain conditions."

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