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Miami Herald - June 11 2010

Officials hoping to stave off looming housing crisis in Overtown


Faced with the potential eviction of more than 400 Overtown residents in the next 18 months, state Rep. James Bush III, D-Miami, brought a dozen people together Thursday to figure out how to save two co-ops and one condo from being condemned by Miami-Dade officials.

 Town Park Village, Town Park South and Town Park North all need to pass mandatory inspections by the Miami-Dade County Building Department as they each turn 40 years old. All three were initially organized as cooperative associations under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Village and South are co-ops, erected in 1970 and 1971. North, built in 1972, was converted into condominiums in 2003.

If all of them fail the county's inspections that are meant to ensure the safety of their facilities, Miami-Dade officials can shut down the buildings and force people to move out.

While HUD is not involved in the county's inspections, it has ties to Village and South. the federal agency has a mortgage on South; Village repaid its HUD mortgage after new property management, Crosswinds, came on board.

HUD regulates the rents for both co-ops, ensuring they remain affordable. People living in co-ops own stock in the co-op, but they do not own their apartments. That's why they pay rent.

Residents told Bush their buildings have substandard plumbing, roofing, electricity and air-conditioning. Other hurdles include poorly insulated windows and doors, and mold and mildew in various units.

``We know we have an uphill battle,'' said Bush, who represents a large swath of Miami, including Overtown, Liberty City, Brownsville and Wynwood. ``We want to find the best way to address the issues.''

The working-group session follows a June 1 community meeting about Town Park, sponsored by Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.

Time is already running out to fix all three facilities.

Town Park Village's inspections are supposed to occur this year, South in 2011 and North in 2012, according to a July 2009 report by TJJA Architects.

And estimated costs to bring the two co-ops and condo up to code are steep: $7.7 million for Village, $5.7 million for South and $8 million for North.

Residents cannot afford higher assessments to cover these costs.

While Bush tried to stay clear of the co-op and condo association politics that underlie each community and possible renovation, there was no way to avoid them.

``With our management or our board, we get no support,'' said Felicia Thomas, a resident of Town Park North.

It's unclear whether the board of directors of each complex would commit to raising money, implementing needed improvements or asking for an extension before the inspections occur.

Except for Andrea Copeland, a board member of the Town Park North Condominium Association, there were no board members from the other two places. That made it hard for the new working group to start creating a strategic plan for the three buildings.

Bush got the working group's support to approach each building's board of directors separately, find out their needs and urge them to participate in a meeting of the minds with the other boards.

At the same time, he would offer them training so members would better understand how to work with their property management company and other agencies, get documents and understand their rights. John Little, an attorney with Legal Services of Greater Miami, agreed to help with the training.

``The root cause of why we're here is to find an agreement that will work for all the entities,'' Bush said. ``If the boards don't accept assistance, we are going to move forward with the entities that are ready to move forward.''

Help from local organizations is available, but it comes with strings.

Pat Anderson, a representative from the Collins Center for Public Policy, said her group and Mt. Zion Developments have pledged a grant to cover technical assistance for all three complexes, but only if the three boards work together.

The working group is expected to meet on July 1, at which point they would identify organizations and people that can help the Town Park communities.

Failing the upcoming county inspections has grave consequences.

``This could put families in harm's way. We don't want to see a mass exodus from Overtown,'' Bush said.

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