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Who will lift up Liberty City?


Original article published in the Miami Times 7/1/15


July 1, 2015 — When the Liberty Square Rising housing redevelopment project was announced by Miami-Dade County back in February, Miami city officials were stunned.

After all, they had just met with the new Miami-Dade housing director Michael Liu only a few weeks before to agree to work together going forward.

The Liberty Square Housing Project is run by Miami-Dade County.

“I am glad they didn’t tell us anything about it so now I can openly criticize the project,” said Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

Not only is Regalado critical of the project, he, city department heads and Urban League of Greater Miami CEO T. Willard Fair are working together to come up with a plan, which includes revitalizing the area between Northwest 15th to 17th avenues and 62nd to 71st streets in the Liberty City area.

Already, city departments in Code Enforcement, Public Works and the Neighborhood Enhancement Teams have swept through the area, clearing gutters, boarding up buildings the city owns and collecting garbage. Included in the plan is increased policing.

The new plans for Liberty City is a part of Miami’s Anti-Poverty Strategic Plan, which is in development, said Milton Vickers, senior advisor for Economic Development to the City Manager.

Vickers said the city had plans to enhance Liberty City, and then Fair came to talk about his vision.

“He was talking about doing projects similar to what we were planning to do so we partnered with each other,” Vickers. “He has plans that exceed our scope — plans that would include Miami-Dade County and Miami-Dade County Public Schools — but the parts that we can work together on we will definitely do.”

There are plans to take dilapidated, abandoned properties, renovate them and sell them to young urban professionals. Vickers said the city will go to court to exercise liens and convert foreclosed properties.

The Urban League has created more than 1,000 units of affordable housing and has more than 1,200 units in the pre-development stage, according to Fair. To date, the league has developed more than 13 housing projects and manages eight properties with one project under construction and two in the ending phases of pre-development.

That’s why Fair wonders why Miami-Dade County didn’t consult with his organization in its plans to redevelop Liberty City. He said the Urban League brings a cultural view point in addition to experience.

“I want Black, Black, Black Black everything in the Liberty Square project. Do you want me to apologize for that?” said Fair.

Liberty Square Rising is a $74 million redevelopment project that includes demolishing all of Liberty Square, building Lincoln Gardens to house residents during reconstruction and moving them back to the finished project. It is expected to start in 2016.

Fair said also redeveloping Liberty Square and keeping it in the same place doesn’t give the community members a chance to see successful people.

“People need to see other people who are going to work and building their lives. Grouping all the poor people over there doesn’t solve the problem. We take a holistic approach to redevelopment. We need to fix everything,” Fair said.

For the rest of Liberty City, Fair has a vision for an education zone, which would include a charter school. He sees a movie complex, too.

Details of the plans are in the works.

The Urban League properties serve low, very low and moderate income families at 80 percent and below area median income. It has properties specifically designed for individuals at 60, 40, and 30 percent of area median income. Its primary residents include single parents, female heads of household, the disabled, seniors, and working families, according to a development resume.

“T. Willard gets it. I think he has a vision,” said Regalado, whose term ends in 2017 and he doesn’t plan to run again. “Fix 15th Avenue; bring back the professional people; fix the streets; fix Tacolcy, then the community will fix itself. Does it cost money? Yes. But if we can use money for Tri-Rail or the Tunnel, we can find money to fix this.”

Mike Hernandez, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said it is all well and good that Regalado wants to pay attention to Liberty City now.

“He has been mayor of Miami for six years and what did he do? Nothing!” Hernandez said.

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