Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Habitat for Humanity "Sweat Equity" solution for Miami Public Housing

When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alverez heard that nearly 900 public housing units are available but remain vacant due to a shortage of maintenance staff responsible for repairs and renovations, he directed county officials to move families into these vacant homes ASAP. When he heard at least another 100 vacant units are ready for occupancy but remain empty he deemed that "unacceptable." This action followed the recent brouhaha over the corrupt and incompetent county public housing authority in which the head of the department and others were promptly fired.

The mayor's directive came a day before the Miami Workers Center was to announce their 12-point plan to solve the public housing crisis. In 2002 the Center began a "Fill the Vacancies" campaign to "expose the problems." According to the Center spokeswoman Sushma Sheth, 40,000 families are on a waiting list for affordable housing. I'm sure they made the mayor's office aware of their initiative. Question is, "Why didn't the mayor act sooner?" At least he trumped the county manager who played catch-up in trying to explain his inept handling of the public housing authority after the Miami Herald's revealing "House of Lies" series exploded upon the scene.

Although the Miami Herald story did not run any pictures of these available "units," a local TV station went out to the projects and revealed row after row of boarded up apartments in largely empty neighborhoods. The most amazing thing we noticed was that the buildings looked to be in pretty good shape and we had to stop and ask ourselves, what is going on here? These buildings are sturdy structures built out of bricks, concrete, and wood and you can bet they meet code (see pictures found on the net). With a few simple repairs (broken windows, new doors, some electrical, etc, etc.), people could be living in them.

MiamiVision Blogarama (MVB) proposes that the answer to correcting the problem does not lie in paying county workers to "fix them up" but rather in giving them to the poor in exchange for the Habitat for Humanity principal of "sweat equity," where first time homeowners take on the responsibilities of repair and maintenace in exchange for the keys to the "unit," which we like to call "foothold homes." With a "foothold home," the poor get a helping hand to step up to becoming part of the middle-class while taking from government and placing upon themselves the burden and expense of repair and maintenance. Coupled with the ideas that transformed Chicago's reputation as having the worst public housing in the U.S. into a prototype for the best in public housing-- which includes listening to the people who live there about what they want and need and drug testing of housing applicants (if you fail, there is no way you're moving into the neighborhood)-- then we might just have something that works.

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