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Miami Herald - February 8, 2008

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North Miami housing project to offer low-cost rentals
North Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency will soon get its first affordable housing project online. North Miami Housing will manage two buildings at Bel House Apartments.


North Miami residents will soon see the first city-managed affordable housing project.

The city's Community Redevelopment Agency has signed a lease to take over Bel House Apartments, which, after renovations, will have 65 low-cost apartments for rent.

''This is a very positive thing for our residents,'' CRA Director Tony Crapp Sr. said.

The CRA is in the process of hiring North Miami Housing to manage the two-building rental complex.

Bel House Apartments at 13925 NE Sixth Ave., is the CRA Board's way of giving residents an immediate affordable housing option by taking the damaged, run-down complex and fixing it up. One of the two buildings was destroyed in Hurricane Wilma and needs repairs. The other, a 20-unit building, is still occupied.

North Miami Housing will be responsible for managing the already occupied building and overseeing the repairs to the 45-unit building. Crapp expects the entire complex to be operational by the end of the year.

Mimi Eugene, who has lived in Bel House West -- the 20-unit building -- for nine years, said she saw a sign posted on the building that said there would be some repairs, but that she had not heard about the building being turned over to the city. She was trying to process what that all meant Wednesday.

''We're not going to be kicked out?'' she asked. ``I hope the rent goes down.''

Crapp said there is no intention of ''displacing'' anyone and there is no plan to change the rent. Eugene said she pays $550 for an efficiency.

The CRA was created to garner affordable housing in North Miami, whether through rentals or ownership. Bel House will fill the need for rentals and the agency's other effort, Pioneer Gardens, will offer homeownership. The 136-housing-unit project is expected to open at the end of 2009, after environmental site remediation and construction at Northeast 137th Street and Fifth Avenue.

For months, Crapp, under the direction of the CRA board, worked out a deal with the owner of Bel House, Bel House LLP, that allows the city to lease the complex and purchase it by the end of five years.

Rather than managing the day-to-day operation, the CRA board voted 4-1 on Jan. 22, to name North Miami Housing as the manager of Bel House Apartments. The housing agency was formed as part of the negotiations that created Biscayne Landing, from which some revenues would support affordable housing efforts in North Miami.

Mayor Kevin Burns said he voted against naming the housing agency as the property manager to make a statement.

''I don't think they should have exclusivity,'' he said.

The Munisport Agreement, the document drawn up that created Biscayne Landing, stipulates that North Miami Housing will receive 15 percent of the development costs of a project and four percent of the gross intake of rental units. It has not yet received a payment from CRA because no projects are complete.

The Community Redevelopment Agency attorney Steven W. Zelkowitz told the board that the Munisport Agreement, signed in 2003, names North Miami Housing as the only development company the CRA can deal with for affordable Housing projects.

Burns wants management selection process to be ''more competitive,'' he said.

''I don't believe that is the way the contract is written,'' he said, and will seek more legal advise on the contract.