For years, entrepreneur Ortelio Marcelo had wanted to build affordable housing at his property on Northwest 18th Street in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood.
He sought public financing, but the city of Miami’s Community & Economic Development Department denied his application. At the time the department was headed by Barbara Gómez, who was fired in 2007 after corruption allegations.
On Tuesday, city leaders joined Marcelo at a ribbon-cutting event for the six townhouse-style apartments for low-income residents he finally built in Allapattah with more than half a million dollars in public funds.
How did he get the money? With help from Gómez.
“I had asked Barbara for the money years ago, but she turned me down,” Marcelo said. “Now I hired her and look where we are.”
She helped him obtain $563,212 from the city to build Parkview Apartments II, which cost a total of $800,000. She has also sought an additional $120,000 from Miami-Dade County, which denied the application. Gómez said she is appealing.
Gómez said that she has found satisfaction helping real estate entrepreneurs like Marcelo to navigate the system she knows so well.
She started her consulting business in 2007, when she lost her job with the city after a Miami Herald investigation that detailed botched affordable-housing projects, loans that went unpaid for decades and cronyism. The newspaper also reported on how Gómez steered more than $1 million in city contracts to two companies that employed one of her ex-husbands soon after he had been released from federal prison for cocaine smuggling and jumping bond. She had also funded another nonprofit agency where her son worked.
On Tuesday, Gómez shared with El Nuevo Herald a 2008 determination from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to dismiss the case against her after finding insufficient evidence that Gómez willfully violated the agency’s conflict-of-interest policies.
“The case went all the way up to HUD in Washington and cleared me,” Gómez said. “I was found innocent.”
A spokeswoman from HUD did not respond to a request for information from El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday.
Although she started her consulting business in 2007, Gómez said she had focused on other things for a few years, such as teaching political science at Ana G. Méndez University System. Finally, in 2011, she devoted herself full-time to her new job of guiding developers and other businesses through government bureaucracy.
“People started calling me,” Gómez said. “I have received support from developers, both large and small, and from city and county officials. They welcomed me.”
In fact, there was a welcoming atmosphere during Tuesday’s press conference at Parkview Apartments II. Several city officials attended, including Mayor Tomás Regalado, City Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Alfredo Durán, deputy director of Miami’s Community & Economic Development Department. At least half a dozen other employees attended: two spokespersons, two sound technicians, a cameraman, a city photographer, two employees from Gort’s office and a sergeant-of-arms who serves as Regalado’s chauffeur.
“I believe she was the victim of other people’s wrongdoing,” Regalado said. “I always supported her because she had compassion toward poor people. And she has to be given a second opportunity.”