Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Real MDHA Takeover

Pan-African Perspective: The Real MDHA Takeover

The recent talk regarding the proposed takeover of Miami-Dade Housing Agency (MDHA) is framed around offering residents of Miami-Dade County, including victims of the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing, a false choice: choose between the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners (BCC) or the federal government in their big money power play over control of MDHA. Neither choice is good. The only viable solution is community control over MDHA.

Determined to takeover, the feds forwarded three demands: first, strip the BCC of power over MDHA; Second, give MDHA independent legal representation instead of the county attorneys, who represent and can be fired by the BCC; And third, give HUD the power to appoint the MDHA administrator, thereby taking power from the Mayor.

The first two demands are not only reasonable, given the dire situation, but have already been proposed by community organizations fighting for low-income housing. To be plain, the BCC is responsible for this housing mess. The only issue left to debate is whether Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, and the economic development committee he chaired, simply failed to exercise proper oversight or actually encouraged the corruption and abuses at the agency.

Equally significant, the BCC approved public policy disasters, including HOPE VI, which destroyed a net of over 750 units of public housing during a housing crisis. It should be no surprise that Rolle gets most of his campaign contributions from wealthy developers who do not live in his district, but financially benefit from their, um, I mean his, initiatives.

And, while Mayor Alvarez has promised the county will refrain from stealing more money from housing- which, in this town, counts as a major moral stand- he has failed to provide any leadership or vision in determining what MDHA would actually do, once they are no longer busy stealing and covering up. He has not proposed public policy initiatives resulting in more low-income housing for those in need. While refraining from public corruption is a step up from the status quo, it simply does not address the current housing crisis.

On the other side, federal takeovers of housing in New Orleans and elsewhere are disasters. Little consideration for local voices; powerful national corporations monopolizing contracts; and disconnected and unclear housing policies have frustrated residents and failed to serve the needy. Equally as important, the feds appear on a mission to privatize public housing and vouchers, handing over the reigns of power to greedy business interests, a move which would all but pull the plug on a already critical patient.

Consequently, while most endorse the idea of stripping the County of its power over the housing agency, just as many have serious reservations about handing that power over to the feds. And just because the County is removed from power, does not necessarily mean the feds should inherit it.

So, the BCC is out, the feds are not much better and the Mayor has done nothing to earn it. The third, and only viable, option is that the community must control the housing agency.

A number of community organizations wage the fight for the housing rights of low-income people. Those organizations have earned the trust of this community and should be given an opportunity to put some action behind their intentions. In addition, room must be explicitly created for the housing agency 'clients' to play a significant role in determining housing agency polcies.

A community housing trust will serve as the board governing the housing agency, with power to set policy and hire and fire key staff, including the director or administrator. The trust is advised by their independent attorney and consultants and compels MDHA to work for the benefit of families in need of housing rather than developers in need of extra profit.

Such a trust will provide immediate relief from the corruption, address local concerns and empower people to make decisions about their community. More than that, the trust will change public policy so that the housing agency responds positively to the housing crisis and to the families in need of relief. The feds say they want to protect local families and the County government and others pleads for local control. Both objectives are met.

While there is a clear need for intervention to stave off further disaster, the feds never bothered to query the stakeholders of this process. We ask HUD: are you doing this with us, for us or to us? If HUD truly "intends to take any and all necessary steps to protect the interests of Miami's most vulnerable families" then take this step: join us in demanding community, not federal, control over the housing agency. Do not make decisions about us without consulting with the community you claim to be representing.

Community control over housing. An idea whose time has come.

Max Rameau
The Center for Pan-African Development


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