For 28 years, Yvette Norton lived at the James E. Scott homes, a dingy and often dangerous Liberty City public housing project. But it was home and it was her community, a place of deep roots and lifelong bonds shared by hundreds of families.
When Miami-Dade’s housing agency decided to tear it down along with the smaller, adjacent Carver homes, scattering 1,150 residents across the county, Norton and many of her neighbors were pained to go. There was one balm, though: The county pledged to replace the housing project with a real neighborhood of attractive homes, apartments, trees and amenities, and said there would be a place for those who wanted to return.
What they could not know then is that it would take more than 10 years, complicated legal and public relations battles, and one of the biggest scandals to hit the housing agency for the county to do what it promised.
Norton has just moved into a sparkling two-bedroom terrace apartment with her 18-year-old granddaughter. It’s in the new NorthPark at Scott Carver, a community of 354 mixed-income apartments and town homes arranged in tree-lined clusters along new suburban-style blocks, where rows of barracks-like public housing once stood. Two sections are done, and a third will open by November.
When complete, the $84 million development, which straddles Northwest 22nd Avenue from 75th Street south to the Florida East Coast rail tracks, will be dotted with playgrounds, a community center with a swimming pool, a gym and a computer lounge.
It’s no longer a housing project, but a publicly subsidized, privately built and managed development with scaled rents depending on income. They range from 70 apartments with market rents starting at $651, to 107 homes set aside for low- and moderate-income income families. The other 177 are public housing apartments, with rents going all the way down to zero for the poorest residents.
But there is nothing to tell one kind of unit from the others.
“I feel good about having my new home,’’ said Norton, who moved three times during her exile, first to a Section 8 home and then to another housing project before her return. “I love it. They didn’t just throw something up. I will give them that much.’’
The experience still clearly smarts, though. It turned Norton and several of her old neighbors into community activists under the aegis of the Miami Workers Center, which helped them organize to fight for the county commitment to replace all 850 demolished units, locate hundreds of original Scott Carver tenants after the county lost track of them, and then win their right to first dibs on the new homes.
“We were scattered all over, some people as far as Georgia,’’ Norton recalled. “Some people were homeless and living in their cars. But the county had no answers for us.’’
The group even managed to save one original Scott homes building, which the county historic preservation board declared a protected landmark. It will be turned into a museum.
“If we hadn’t fought, we wouldn’t have what we got now,’’ said Norton’s longtime friend and fellow combatant Yvonne Stratford, a former Carver resident who finished raising her children after being moved to another rundown project, Annie M. Coleman Gardens, and is now on the waiting list for a one-bedroom apartment in the new development.