Updated 12/7/16 at 11 a.m. Additions at end of article.
Ultra-conservative neurosurgeon Ben Carson may get the final word on whether Liberty Square has a $300 million makeover.
The project, awarded to Related Urban Group by the county commission months ago, still needs approval by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the huge federal entity that Carson is scheduled to take over in late January.
On Tuesday, Michael Liu, director of the county's Department of Public Housing, told Miami Web News: "We are well into preparing our formal applications for approval that go to HUD offices outside of Florida. That process incorporates receiving environmental review approval from State/Local offices which should be forthcoming before the end of the month. It is difficult to determine how long HUD will take to complete its review of the project applications. It could happen before January 20, ... but it would not be surprising for the review to extend beyond that date."
Jan. 20 is the date that the Trump administration takes over.
Carson has repeatedly said that he believes big government makes a huge mistake by giving assistance to the poor -- because he thinks that welfare makes it unlikely the poor will dig themselves out of poverty on their own initiatives.
The theme on Carson's website: "Through hard work, perseverance and a faith in God, you can live your dreams."
HUD has a $49 billion budget and about 8,300 employees, according to the Washington Post. It oversees 3000 local public housing authorities and provides housing assistance to low-income families.
"Carson might also abandon or place new restrictions on government subsidies and other programs that conservatives criticize as fostering a culture of overreliance on government handouts, according to housing advocates alarmed by his nomination," according to the Post report.
Liu said that the county is moving as quickly as possible to rebuild Miami-Dade's oldest and largest public housing project. "HUD through the local office is kept informed of our progress, i.e., our formal engagement process with Liberty Square residents has been completed, transfers of residents from the area that will be initially addressed has begun, etc. The residents have been transferred to rehabbed vacant units at Liberty Square, so that as promised, there will be no displacement."
A HUD spokesman and Related did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Pastor Willis emailed a reply late Tuesday evening: "The local HUD office responded right away [after he sent a letter of complaint in early April] and said they would be looking into the matter, but we haven't heard anything from HUD since then. Dr. Carson in my opinion is not knowledgeable about these matters, and in my opinion he is a 'fish out of his normal water.' We're not optimistic about any future outcome in any of these events."
Comment: Liu is a veteran housing administrator, an associate director at HUD from 2001 to 2005, and it's virtually certain that he is doing everything possible to move Liberty Square as quickly as possible through the approval process.