Housing Story So Far

    Stories on the blog so far show evidence that:

    1 -- Miami is one of most segregated areas in America.

    2 -- Very little has  has been done to improve highly segregated Liberty City in past 35 years.

    3 -- Studies show government housing policies tend to support  segregation and therefore perpetuate the dysfunctional underclass stuck in poor neighborhoods.

    4 -- The proposed $200-million remake of Liberty Square will provide 700 households with improved housing, but may do little or nothing to put them on a road out of extreme poverty.

    5 -- Miami has a desperate need for affordable housing. Getting it involves negotiating a maze of complexities, political connections, sometimes illicit behavior -- and a ton of money from many sources that entices developers but may not lead to solutions for middle- and lower-income residents.

    6 -- The concept of "inclusionary zoning" could do much to integrate Miami and provide housing for the poor. It's a huge trend nationwide, but not Miami-Dade.

   The stories on this blog concerning housing in Miami have become highly wonkish, building in bits and pieces in ways that probably a lot of folks don't have time for. What follows is a consolidation of the research, linking back to original stories, along with some analysis that (I hope) ties everything together. 

                                     1980 BACKGROUND   

    In 1980, riots decimated much of Liberty City. Eighteen died. Damage to property was at least $100 million. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission and a panel appointed by Governor Bob Graham reported major changes had to be made to fix the dire poverty and unemployment.
NW 62nd Street in Liberty City              Source: Google Maps

     In 2015, thirty-five years later, Liberty City remains mired in poverty and some sections have less development than before the riots. The heart of the area, the census tract including public housing project Liberty Square, is 93.2 percent black. Two-thirds of those 20-64 are women. Forty-seven percent of those over 15 live below the poverty line. Unemployment is 46.8 percent.

                               LIBERTY SQUARE REDO

     Earlier this year, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced a complete make-over of the 78-year-old, 753-unit Liberty Square to make it a mixed-income, mixed-use public-private project.
    Six developers have submitted bids; the construction is expected cost more than $200 million, with the county providing $46 million in public funds. A selection committee is expected to pick a winner this fall, with the county commission making the final determination. Two of the bidders have strong political connections. More HERE.
    In public meetings and activist groups, Liberty Square residents worry that they will not be allowed to move back in when the work is done; the county assures them they will. This exchange -- county plans, resident fears, county response -- has been the focus of The Miami Herald and Miami New Times, among others, generally ignoring the larger issues of segregation and what public housing should/should not be doing.
    Black historian Marvin Dunn, Judge Tom Petersen
Marvin Dunn
and others have questioned whether the new construction will simply build new structures and do nothing to address the severe social-economic problems of the residents. More HERE 

              SEGREGATED MIAMI  
     Miami-Dade is heavily segregated, according to a 2011 study, The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New Findings from the 2010 Census, by John Logan of Brown University and Brian Shults of Florida State.
    Of the 50 major metropolitan areas with large black populations, Miami ranked as the seventh most segregated. What's more, Miami has been getting progressively more segregated since the 1990 census, according to the Logan-Shults analysis. More HERE

Miami-Dade's segregation can be clearly seen on this map, using 2010 census data, created by Dustin Cable at the University of Virginia. Orange dots are Hispanic, green dots non-Hispanic blacks, blue dots non-Hispanic whites.

                       SEGREGATION HURTS


    Amazing that a journalist has to re-state the obvious in the 21st Century?
    Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson in his book, More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City, observes that "hundreds of studies" suggest "concentrated poverty," as is the case in Liberty City, "increases the likelihood of social isolation (from mainstream institutions), joblessness, dropping out of school, lower educational achievement, involvement in crime, unsuccessful behavioral development and delinquency among adolescents, nonmarital childbirth, and unsuccessful family management."


    Amazing that a journalist has to re-state the obvious in the 21st Century, Part II?
     A recent study from Harvard Researchers, The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility, examined five million poor families and found that the best road to success was to get them out of the poor areas: "Low-income children are most likely to succeed in counties that have less concentrated poverty, less income inequality, better schools, a larger share of two-parent families, and lower crime rates." The younger the children are when they escape a poor neighborhood, the better their chance for success, the Harvard study found. More HERE.


    As real-estate agents love to say: "It's location, location, location."
    If public housing continues to be put in poor areas, it perpetuates problems, experts believe. A recent New York Times editorial NOTED that while the Fair Housing Act of 1968 set forth high-minded goals, "elected officials have often reinforced segregation through a range of policies. Among the most pernicious of these is the practice of building subsidized housing mainly in existing ghettos instead of areas that offer low- and moderate-income families access to safe neighborhoods, good jobs and schools that allow their children to thrive."
    A recent STUDY from the Lincoln Institute of Land Studies put it this way: "Concentrated poverty was clearly an outcome of the housing policies of the mid-twentieth century." Meaning places like Liberty Square.

                            A KEY QUESTION:


    Wynwood, once a predominantly Puerto Rican area, is now in the midst of a gentrifying renaissance, while Liberty City stagnates.
    One possible answer is racism: Developers and residents may be fearful of moving into a black area (although they have been certainly expanding into Overtown near downtown Miami). Another variant: 35 years after the riots, developers remain fearful of spending millions in an area they fear might go up in smoke.
    A more complex answer comes from Andres Duany, an internationally respected urban planner and architect, who blames politics for the lack of development in Liberty City.
Andres Duany
  "Basically there are handlers of the government subsidies and they don't want anyone interfering," Duany says. "It's disgusting."
      Duany believes a "huge mafia" works to control the government funds that finance considerable housing in Liberty City and don't want outside developers or urban planners like Duany interfering in their business. More HERE.    

                    CAN THE POOR MOVE 


      It gives their kids better schools, better prospects for jobs. The answer is yes, at least theoretically.  On paper, there are a lot of alternatives:

                                  SECTION 8
    Section 8 vouchers, a HUD financed program, allow the poor to rent places with landlords that accept such vouchers. But where are those landlords? And how much of a choice do voucher users in Miami really have? That's still unclear.

                        AFFORDABLE HOUSING MAZE

       The other main alternative for the poor and lower-middle classes is "affordable housing." This is financed by a bewildering maze of  programs that I've just begun to explore. At times, developers have navigated the maze in felonious ways.
    All experts agree Miami-Dade has a huge need for affordable housing.  According to the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida, 495,000 Miami-Dade households were paying more than that for housing in 2013.
    More desperate, according to the center: more than 250,000 pay more than 50 percent -- a huge expense.

    Funding for affordable housing can come from city and county dollars intended for "community development," the state's Sadowski Trust Fund, a State Local Government Housing Trust Fund and State Housing Trust Fund, plus federal tax credits that are measured at 9 percent or 4 percent.
    These federal tax credits are the main source. They are  doled out by a powerful, but little known board --the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The definition of a bus stop can mean the difference between who gets a $20 million allotment.
Florida Housing Finance Corp. meeting in Gables
That example is available HERE.
    The problems a developer has negotiating the maze can be read HERE. "It was a soap opera."
    At times, developers have gotten caught gaming the system -- and some are going to jail for syphoning off money meant for poor people's housing. Other times, authorities have uncovered their schemes before they got too far. Developers Create Shadowy Stores Trying to Win Millions is HERE.

                              THE SOLUTION:
                  INCLUSIONARY HOUSING?

    The basic concept: When major developers build upscale housing projects, they're required to help pay for affordable units -- either on the same property they're developing or somewhere else.
     About  500 local governments throughout the United States already use this concept in one form or another, reports the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass.
    The Lincoln Institute REPORTS that inclusionary housing can have huge benefits for communities, not only in housing but also in reducing traffic by allowing people to live closer to their workplaces.
Lizz Plater-Zyberk
Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, former dean of architecture at the University of Miami, believes that the concept makes a lot of sense for the county, but she's gotten nowhere in trying to get them instituted. Her views HERE.
    Two county commissioners, Xavier Suarez and Barbara Jordan, have announced they plan to introduce new attempts for inclusionary zoning, but a leading developers' group says they oppose the move, and so far nothing's happened. That article HERE.


    County leaders, notably Mayor Carlos Gimenez, advocate a new Liberty Square as a solution for many problems, including area crime.
    Michael Liu, the county's housing director, is letting the bidders come up with the specifics, but it's anticipated to include units for families with various incomes plus shops, perhaps even a supermarket. His ideas HERE.
    Doug Mayer, a veteran nonprofit developer of affordable housing, believes that hopes for a mixed income development in the heart of Liberty City is "not realistic." His ideas HERE.
Tom Petersen
Senior Judge Tom Petersen -- who has many years experience in public housing projects -- says it's wrong to think the $200-million-plus redo of Liberty Square is going to reduce crime. His views HERE.
    Meanwhile, activists for the poor are speaking out to make sure that the poor now living in Liberty Square are not excluded in the new development. Their views HERE.
   In the development itself, some are working hard to improve the lives of residents. One is Samantha Quarterman, whose group takes care of the some of the neediest kids in the neediest sector of Dade County. Full story HERE.
   Even before new construction begins, the county is trying to improve the health of residents in its 100 public housing projects by banning smoking. The move is already getting push-back from some residents who don't think they should be told what they can do within their own apartments.  The over-arching question: How much should the government try to improve the lives of its poorest citizens? Story HERE.
                                   MESSY POLITICS

    This site generally leaves the politics to the horse-race writers, but here's a quick summation.

Carlos Gimenez
    Mayor Gimenez is up for re-election. The Liberty Square proposal is a major achievement for his administration, as it is for Audrey Edmonson, the county commissioner for the area.
    Meanwhile, Tomas Regalado, mayor of Miami, is angry that he wasn't consulted, since Liberty Square lies within city limits. 

Raquel Regalado
His daughter, Raquel, is running for county mayor. Xavier Suarez, who has made tentative steps toward inclusionary zoning, may also be running.
    T. Willard Fair, executive director of the Urban League of Greater Miami, has likened the county's plans for a new Liberty Square to "rape -- if it's executed as proposed." Fair too is angry that he wasn't consulted in advance. His organization has been a nonprofit partner with developers in several affordable housing projects.
    As if this were not enough, there's talk in black neighborhoods that Edmonson, the county commissioner, isn't getting along with the area's city commissioner, Keon Hardemon, on how to improve Liberty City.
    Around county hall, there's been a vague buzz wondering why only six of the 24 qualified developers entered the competition to rebuild Liberty Square. The whispered assumption is that some developers have such an inside track that others need not bother.
    This reporter used email and telephone to inquire of the other 18 companies why they didn't submit proposals. One's phone was disconnected because its owner is headed to jail. Another said the deal seemed too complex to devote his time. The other 16 didn't respond.
    The bidder with the biggest name is RUDG, the affordable housing unit of Related Group, led by Jorge Perez, perhaps the most powerful figure in local politics. Another possible  insider is Atlantic Pacific, which is led by managers from the former Carlisle Development Group, which has had its owner plead guilty to a kickback scheme. The former Carlisle people are said to be close to Commissioner Edmonson. That story HERE.
    Leaders in the affordable housing community are so intertwined with politicians, nonprofits and each other that everyone is engaged in a delicate dance. One developer told this reporter that the Carlisle scandal was having a "negative impact" on the industry, then tried through his PR agency to get his comment removed from the story for fear that it might offend someone.


    Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are generally intended to provide affordable housing, but it appears they sometimes just get thrown away.
    One local example: The county commission supported a $25 million loan to build a new home for Jungle Island, a for-profit company, with the understanding it would provide 603 jobs to Miamians, including many from low-income areas. Jungle Island is still paying off that loan.
Jungle Island: tourist attraction built with HUD loan

        In 2012, HUD received a report that Jungle Island employed only 431. The next year, the amusement park brought in a new executive who has slashed staffed and out-sourced many jobs. HUD says it has not received any updated employment information about employment at the attraction. 
    Without a positive jobs report, this means county politicians gave a favored private company funds that could have gone to affordable housing.

   Latest story HERE.


  1. John,

    You ever questioned why there is no CRA for Liberty City? If there was ever a place that could benefit from a CRA devoted to eliminating "slum and blight," within the city limits, then Liberty City would be the place

  2. I find it disturbing that I seem to be the only person to have taken the time to post a comment.