The Lies we tell Underprivileged Communities: The Façade of the Community Redevelopment Agency in the City of South Miami

by: Brittany Thomas

Marshall Williamson is a neighborhood in within the City of South Miami. The area is named after Marshall Williamson, an early African-American settler of South Florida. [1] The neighborhood is one of the first African-American communities in South Florida and maintains the African-American heritage today. In 1997, after years of neglect, the City of South Miami designated the Marshall Williamson community a blighted area and established a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) with the purpose of “revitalizing” the community. [2]

The CRA and the City of South Miami signed an interlocal agreement outlining their duties and enacted bylaws to control the powers of the CRA. [3]Once the CRA began to function, it was clear that it was going to be no help for the Marshall Williamson community. First, according to the bylaws, drafted by the City Commissioners, the City commissioners were to be the board of the CRA. Community members were concerned and rightfully so. How could the same commission, which neglected their community for decades, be trusted to run the agency created to help them? [4]Unfortunately, the City Commissioners are allowed to run a CRA and in fact, this is a practice seen all over the State of Florida. [5]

After years of no movement, the CRA began purchasing property and tearing down affordable housing units, with the promise of building more. According to the interlocal agreement, the City of South Miami cannot diminish the amount of affordable housing within the CRA and if they must demolish affordable housing, that housing must be replaced unit for unit. The City has demolished units of affordable housing within the CRA boundaries and has failed to replace them. Even when developments are put forward to replace the housing, they never come to fruition.

One development in particular is known as Madison Square project. The Madison Square affordable housing project has been promised to the Marshall Williamson community for over 20 years. With the creation of the CRA many thought that it would finally be built. The City commission and the CRA board have ensured that the project will never occur. For the development to move forward the City was required to pass several zoning and variance changes. Instead of passing them, they changed them all together. Where the City had agreed to allow development of 75 units, they now thought that anything over 40 was not going to work. The sudden changes require the contract with developer Green Mills to be re-written. [6]

Green Mills, LLC accepted the unreasonable requests so the City found a different way to halt the project. The City and the CRA sent a list of unreasonable and unlawful requests to the developers. One such request from the City was to have final approval over every lease granted in the Madison Square development. The City wanted to approve the person, the term of their stay, and the conditions upon which the leases would be granted.[7] Green Mills notified the City that the requests violated the Fair Housing Act and backed out of the Madison Square deal three days later.

There have been, however, mixed use, high density development approved by the City commission- Red Road Commons and Valencia. In the creation of both projects affordable housing units were promised. Now, one bedroom apartments in Red Road commons starts at $1200. The only high volume affordable housing unit that has been built is Metro South. Metro South contains 91 units and is for residents of 55 or older. While Metro South is an area of praise, only 11 Marshall Williamson residents were able to obtain a lease in the units. This is due to the fact that the City based its determination of affordable on the City of South Miami as a whole and not just Marshall Williamson. Given that the median income in South Miami is $63,289 and the median income of Marshall Williamson is only $14,000 it is clear why they were unable to rent the units. [8]

Recently, the City Commission has launched an attack on the CRA. The CRA has four employees. These employees help community members, promote mentorship for children, and run a community center in the City of South Miami. In November of 2016, the several city commissioners presented a resolution that would terminate the entire staff of the CRA. The funds would be diverted and put towards the nonexistent Madison Square Project. The CRA staff is comprised of Marshall Williamson residents. Without the staff, the community will lose its last line of defense against the City of South Miami.

The motivations of the City are clear. In 2020 the CRA will sunset, meaning it will dissolve and will no longer be an entity within South Miami. All of the property, funds, and bonds held by the CRA will fall into the hands of the City. Once the CRA is gone there is no interlocal agreement stopping the City from selling the property and making a profit. Without the CRA designation, the Marshall Williamson community is free to be gentrified and what remaining African-American community members will surely be pushed out.

[1] Donna Shelley, MARSHALL WILLIAMSON – The “Little Mayor of South Miami, Somi Magazine

[2] SOUTH MIAMI, FL., ORDINANCE 12-97-1633 (1997).

[3] S. Miami Cmty. Red. Agency Bylaws (2004); see also, S. Miami Cmty. Red. Agency Interlocal Agr. (1999).

[4] Statement of Bishop Larry Jones, President of Concerned Clergy & Citizens Coalitions, Bishop within South Miami. Statement of Dr. Price, Board member of Center for Ethics & Public Service at the University of Miami.

[5] Fla. Att’y Gen. Op. 98-36 (June 1, 1988).

[6] See Butler, Alex, South Miami Residents say Madison Square Affordable Housing Delays are Commonplace, Miami Herald, Oct. 20, 2015; see also Butler, Alex, South Miami Mulls Next Stage of Affordable Housing Dilemma, Miami Herald, July 23,2015.

[7] Email from David, Stephen, Director of S. Miami Cmty. Red. Agency to author (February 2, 2017)(On file with author).

[8] Id.

One thought on “The Lies we tell Underprivileged Communities: The Façade of the Community Redevelopment Agency in the City of South Miami

  1. Yvonne Beckman

    Brittany, the affordable housing in South Miami has been a very complex issue since the inception of the CRA. From the fake “findings of necessity” in the late 80ties, to the ousting of 35 working families from the Square Diehl apartments to the removal of single family homes under the guise of ” these are drug houses” to exorbitant prices of the purchase of additional units to date, the so called effort to provide housing for our most vulnerable residents has been nothing but a veiled attempt to gentrify this highly sought after area. The interplay and machinations between South Miami and county politicians , developers, some local preachers and residents caused the deliberate delays again and again and again. Mayor Stoddard and Bob Welsh cleverly manipulated the membership on various boards to ensure support for their “new urbanists ” plans which, in the end made “affordable ” housing “unaffordable. Red Road Commons had a little chance of providing homes for 40 families, but none of the politicians stood up and fought to reduce the cost. Instead they gave their quiet fiat to keep our residents out, once again.
    One should also look at the Charter school that was build with many variances in the same Historic Black District. As it turned out , only one child from the neighborhood was able to qualify for attendance to the fine school. No one said a mumbling word about this.

    Your article above explains crystal clear how it all went down. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. SM activists ( I left town 2 months ago) have be reviled in the most egregious ways. Your article makes all our efforts worthwhile. One wonders how those “others” can live with themselves.


    Yvonne Beckman
    Phone 786-543-4390

    PS: The Green Mills CEO would sit with the activists in chambers at times and shake his head. He showed integrity and care.
    PPS:Nationwide many articles have been written about the in and outs of the tax credits for affordable housing. We are not aware that getting tax credit gives the rights to upzone neighborhoods, Stoddard and co-horts seem to think it is.
    PPS : Another indication that SM’s politician do not care about the said residents is that, with all the money that flowed in through CRA there was never an effort to spruce up the HUD housing or Lee Park. For the latter developers are buying up the units and are speculating that Stoddard and cohorts plans to gentrify will come to fruition. One of those buyers is the owner of our local newspaper. And so on and on and on.



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