Blessed are the poor, but do we care?

 

fgrimm@herald.com

I look at the House of Lies scandals, I see sleazy deals and political patronage and well-connected insiders who regard affordable housing as just another way to game the system.

Of course, I'm disgusted. Who isn't?

Anne Manning sees something else.

The director of Miami Habitat for Humanity sees empty lots and broken promises and lost opportunities. She sees betrayed families consigned to overcrowded apartments and wretched conditions. She sees a scandal that festered while the housing crisis that has long afflicted South Florida's poor spreads like a virus into the working class.

Anne Manning watches this scandal unfold, and I'm afraid she sees me.

And you, too, as we shrug it off (don't we?) as the usual stuff of South Florida, about as surprising around here as the Dolphins losing.

SO-WHAT ATTITUDE

Oh, we read about the unseemly deals unearthed by The Miami Herald in housing agencies at both Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami. We read about unpaid loans and misused money and the outright looting. But this kind of bad behavior is consumed around here with detached pique, as if it were no different from vote fraud in a city election or kickbacks in an airport contract or a suspicious zoning change just ahead of a luxury condo project.

Anne Manning saw more than that. And she wanted more from us. ''Where's the outrage?'' she asked. ``Where's the political will to do something about this?''

We did react, of course. Politicians were embarrassed. Lousy administrators were fired. Prosecutors got involved. The affairs of some powerful businessmen were exposed to public scrutiny.

But Manning worries that few of us recognize the real scandal unearthed by the House of Lies.

All that negligence and waste and outright corruption took place against a backdrop of incredible need. Few places in America are faced with such a dire shortage of safe, livable, affordable housing. It wasn't just that public money was squandered. It was squandered in the midst of so much need. Manning wants that to be the real source of our outrage.

One would think that local concern ought to translate into local support for Miami Habitat. Yet its counterparts in Jacksonville or Collier County are able to build twice as many units.

A squandered $1.4 million project in Overtown has come to symbolize the scandal in Miami. For all that money, only nine homes were partially built.

OFFER IGNORED

When the builder abandoned the project, Habitat offered to salvage the project and finish the houses. The city ignored the offer.

Manning described driving through Overtown last year and the shock of discovering that the city, instead, had demolished the houses.

''It was an incredible amount of money.'' But what pained her about those vacant lots was the lost opportunity. ``With just a little bit of effort, we could have put nine families into good homes.''

She had written to Mayor Manny Diaz back in 2005, not only reminding him that Habitat was waiting to take over the abandoned project in Overtown but renewing a standing offer to partner with the city to build or rehab multifamily housing. ''It is not Habitat who is being made to wait, but the poor families who are in dire need of affordable housing,'' she wrote.

But the one organization we all know would not abscond with precious housing money, would not flip city property and sell out to speculators, never received an answer. Where's the outrage?

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