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Miami Herald- March 10, 2015

Tenants make steep demands in planned Liberty Square redevelopment

By David Smiley

One month after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez released an ambitious plan to redevelop the county’s oldest public housing project, the tenants of Liberty Square have sent their demands.

And they are steep.

In a letter emailed late Monday to the mayor, affordable housing developer Doug Mayer, who has been working with the Liberty Square Resident Council, requested that Miami-Dade set aside a quarter of the developer’s fee for the approximately $200 million project to create an endowment for the community. That fund, which would likely be in the millions, would provide enough interest to fund social programs in a low-income neighborhood plagued by violence, Mayer said.

Mayer also requested that the county turn over ownership of the completed project to the tenants, and that the residents association be allowed input into the selection of the developer. He requested that the county weave those demands into a bid application, a draft copy of which was distributed last week for feedback.

A Gimenez spokesman said Tuesday that the mayor had not reviewed the proposal, and noted that it was unclear if the resident council was actually endorsing the demands given that the letter was not signed. "Given this, it would be inappropriate for the administration to respond to a hypothetical use of funds," said spokesman Michael Hernández.

But Sara Alvin-Smith, the president of the council, told The Herald Tuesday that the tenants of Liberty Square are indeed working with Mayer, a former vice president of housing development for Carrfour Supportive Housing.

"Let’s see if for once we let the residents be responsible for where they live," she said.

The mayor’s Liberty Square Rising proposal calls for the county to invest up to $74 million into rebuilding the 700-unit community in Liberty City. The New Deal-era housing complex would be reopened as a mixed-use and mixed-income community. Michael Liu, the county’s director of public housing and community development, has said that any tenant in good standing will be welcomed back to the rebuilt project, or moved into a newly developed complex about two miles away.

Only 26 of 638 existing leases were problematic, he said early last month.

The plan also calls for some of the millions in public funding to be invested into the broader Liberty City area, one of Miami’s poorest communities. Job training is included in the proposal, and the draft application released to developers last week shows that the county might make local workforce commitments 20 percent of the grading system used to score proposals.

It also shows the county might ask for 30 percent of the developer’s fee.

Noting that number, the residents association wants the county to reinvest most of that in the community in the form of an endowment. Mayer said the money would be managed by a board appointed by the residents council as well as local elected officials, including Gimenez.

"What we’re saying," said Mayer, "is it ought to stay in the community."