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December 19, 2007 Miami Herald

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LIBERTY CITY
Homes for poor may not be built
An 8-year-old federal grant has only enough money for about 150 homes, not the 850 promised to Liberty City residents.

BY MATTHEW I. PINZUR
mpinzur@MiamiHerald.com

Hundreds of affordable homes promised to urban residents may not be built because Miami-Dade government does not have enough money, federal housing leaders said Tuesday.

The budget to rebuild Liberty City's old Scott and Carver housing projects is big enough for only about 150 to 175 units, according to Donald ''D.J.'' LaVoy, installed this fall by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to run the troubled local agency.

Early this year, Mayor Carlos Alvarez promised to build more than 800 units in and around Scott and Carver, part of a deal with affordable-housing activists to win their support in the unsuccessful fight against HUD's takeover.

''We still stand by it,'' Alvarez told The Miami Herald on Tuesday. ``Some of the comments that were made [by HUD staff] I don't agree with.''

At issue: a $35 million federal grant, known as HOPE VI, which Miami-Dade won in 1999 to replace the 850 units of dilapidated, barracks-style buildings at Scott and Carver. It originally called for 382 single-family and townhomes on the site.

That never sat well with some residents, who were evicted when the old buildings were demolished and believed they were promised a chance to return. They have waited through years of delays, overruns and rewritten plans -- less than $19 million of the grant remains, and not one home has been built. HUD is hoping to hire a developer early next year.

''Those folks are still irate about having to move,'' said County Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, who represents the neighborhood and has met repeatedly with displaced residents. ``Some are still homeless, still transient.''

Protests from residents and activists escalated in 2006, when The Miami Herald's House of Lies series exposed widespread waste and mismanagement of HOPE VI and other affordable-housing programs. But their escalating confrontations with county leaders were almost instantly calmed in February, when Alvarez signed the 850-home pledge with the Miami Workers Center and Low-Income Families Fighting Together.

''Cabrera and U.S. HUD have the power to marshal the necessary resources to ensure this community-led vision is realized,'' said Joseph Phelan, a spokesman for the Workers Center. ``The question is if U.S. HUD will use their power to right the wrong done to the community at Scott Carver.''

LaVoy's boss, HUD Assistant Secretary Orlando Cabrera, said the new units would cost at least $150,000 each to build -- that would leave enough for 126 units. LaVoy did not explain how he arrived at the 150 to 175 estimate, but he said it was not exact.

But Alvarez said he has always intended to leverage the HOPE grant with other money, especially tax credits that are available to private developers who build affordable homes.

''It's premature to say we don't have the money,'' he said. ``We're still very optimistic that what we said we would do, we can do.''