Thursday, October 05, 2006

Miami's CRA: Steal from the Poor, Give to the Rich

Miami's CRA: Steal from the Poor, Give to the Rich

It's happening again. Poor people are in need and South Florida officials are jumping into action to fund yet another public boondoggle which will do absolutely nothing to address the problem.

In the midst of a housing crisis and scandal, Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, who both failed to find money for affordable housing, are breaking their necks to fund two big projects: parking for the performing arts center and an underground tunnel leading from I-395 directly to the Port of Miami.

The arts center, renamed the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA), opened 20 months behind schedule and almost $200 million over budget. If that makes you happy, you will be thrilled to learn that the CCPA was built without any parking spaces. The local powers and media are so eager to open the world class arts center, that they won't even investigate an obvious scam (suggested title: 'Opera House of Lies'). After $446 million, there are no arrests, no investigations and no parking.

Separately, in 1981, Congressman Claude Pepper proposed an underground tunnel connecting the Port of Miami directly to I-395, allowing cargo trucks to avoid downtown traffic altogether. The project is now in the final planning stages, with a preliminary price tag of $1 billion. We can only hold hands and pray that this project is not managed by the same people who built the CCPA.

In spite of the County housing agency scandals and the demands of community groups for more low income housing, County Commissioners displayed no sense of shame, declining to even replace the money stolen from the affordable housing programs. In Miami, Manny Diaz trudges forth in his quest to reduce poverty by removing all poor people from the City limits, replacing them with yuppie condo dwellers.

It is in this context that Miami's Omni Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is poised to divert millions of dollars from the poor, to fund parking for wealthy patrons of the CCPA and a tunnel for the Port of Miami.

Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes allow the creation of CRAs to alleviate "blight" and "slum" areas by redistributing property and reinvesting captured property tax increments. The law allows great flexibility, but does require the production of a Community Redevelopment Plan, whose only tangible objective is to "Provide for the development of affordable housing in the area," or "state the reason" for not doing so (F.S. 163.360 S. 2(c)).

The proposed amendment to the Omni CRA Plan describes Central Miami, identifying East Omni as one of it's wealthiest areas, with average household income at $36,547, raising obvious questions regarding its inclusion in the CRA in the first place. Just across Biscayne Blvd., the West Omni is it's second poorest community, at $14,560 per household.

Naturally, the amended plan urges building over 2,000 "moderate and upper middle" income housing units for the wealthy East Omni. However, because the poorer East Omni "shows a very low demand for new units," urges a mere 394 units there. Evidently, the East Omni is the only low income area in Miami against more affordable housing.

What planet are these people from?

Because they are not spending it on affordable housing, the CRA is being tapped for $50 million to pay for Miami's share of the Port Tunnel. Because the Port is not, technically, in the CRA district, City Commissioners, who head the agency, will redraw the CRA boundaries in order to make sure the cash grab is legal, even if not moral.

Best of all, while local governments are crying broke when asked to fund housing, the $50 million tunnel contribution is not even in the CRA Plan. Commissioners will ignore both the plan and the CRA boundaries in order to creatively finance emergency funding for a proposal which has been on the table since 1981. On a legal note, while the Statute requires a Plan, there is no language obliging the CRA to actually adhere to the plan.

The lesson here is that when politicians want to fund a project, they will find the money. Politically connected developers will get their share, a portion of which they will gladly reinvest in the elected officials who approved the expenditure in the first place.

Today, the CRA has more than $50 million earmarked for the poor, which can be used to build affordable housing. But elected officials simply do not want to build homes for poor Black people. These officials, whether through the CRA or other government agency, take money from the poor, drive it through the underground tunnel, and deliver it to the center for the performing rich.

Max Rameau
Center for Pan-African Development


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