Though the county housing agency has vastly improved its management capabilities since the scandal, Fortner said, it lacks the development expertise that McCormack Baron has.
“We do a lot better at managing public housing than we did in the 1980s and the 1990s. There is a lot more professionalism now than when these neighborhoods became blighted,’’ he said, but added: “One of the big problems in the past is the county tried to act as a developer, and we’re just not that good at that.’’
Fortner said his agency has been sending letters to former Scott Carver residents, offering them a chance to apply for the new housing.
It’s still not known how many of the original tenants will wind up moving back. Several hundred either could not be found, have died, or are settled elsewhere — most still with Section 8 certificates — and are no longer interested in coming back, he said.
Of the 700 people on the county’s list, 485 have expressed interest in returning, but only 198 are “in good standing’’ — meaning they have not violated any agency rules and are qualified to apply for new housing, Fortner said. Of those, 61 have moved back, 14 others have been approved, and 78 have submitted applications, he said.
Fortner also said the county is well on its way to replacing the 850 demolished units. In addition to the new homes on the Scott Carver site, the agency has partnered with private developers to complete about 370 new affordable units in the area, he said. An additional 158 units are scheduled to open next year, and 100 in 2016, he said.
Norton, the longtime resident, and the Miami Workers Center organizer, Hashim Yeomans-Benford, say they have not seen those plans and contend the county remains well short of its promises of full replacement and return for all those wanting to come back.
“Our expectation remains: What is the plan for one-to-one replacement? The community is progressing, and we want to make sure the people in the community get to participate in that progress,’’ Yeomans-Benford said.
Added Norton: “It took 10 years so far, and it may take 10 more.’’
But Charles Elsesser, a Florida Legal Services attorney who represented the former tenants, said he believes the county is now serious about fulfilling its promise to provide them the right to return, and says the activist residents can take some of the credit for the high quality of the new housing.
“I think it turned out infinitely better than it otherwise would have,’’ Elsesser said. “The housing is beautiful. It is really, really nice. That’s a tribute to all the work everybody put into it. A lot of them will get a chance to live in really nice housing. It just need not have taken 13 years.’’