Shock is a common reaction when people first see The Beacon, a spanking new gray-and-glass apartment building in Overtown, Miamis once-proud but long-struggling historic black neighborhood.
The 13-story edifice, standing on a city block surrounded by a railroad track, a highway and an elevated transit rail, is home to 90 rental apartments for low-income people. The developer, Carlisle Development Group, also donated much of the ground floor to after-school care, computer labs and other educational services.
The first thing people say is, This is Overtown? said Saliah Nelson, vice president of Urgent Inc., the nonprofit that operates the programs. Yes, this is Overtown.
Nelson described the $25 million complex as Carlisles big gift to the community not unlike dozens of other affordable-housing projects that the Miami-based company has developed over the past decade in South Florida and elsewhere.
But Carlisles reputation for building modern apartment complexes that lift up peoples lives seems suddenly at risk: A federal grand jury is investigating allegations that Carlisle and its chief executive officer, Matthew S. Greer, the scion of a prominent Miami-Dade family, and others associated with the company bilked a U.S. government subsidy program designed to promote affordable-housing development.
News of the investigation, headed by the U.S. attorneys office, has already affected Carlisle, the states biggest and the nations third-largest affordable-housing developer, with more than 80 completed projects valued at $1.4 billion.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes The Beacon and several other Carlisle projects, said the federal investigation is baffling in light of the level of governmental scrutiny of the companys projects and its philosophy of helping the community.
It did catch me off guard, said Edmonson, who, like other commissioners, has received substantial campaign contributions from Carlisle and its executives. I couldnt believe it.
In May, commissioners delayed a decision to certify 11 affordable-housing developers because of the Carlisle investigation. Mayor Carlos Gimenezs administration cited a Miami Herald report that revealed that prosecutors suspect Carlisle of defrauding the federal government of tax-credit subsidies granted to builders of low-income rental apartments.
The board had been scheduled to approve Carlisle as one of its pre-qualified vendors to develop affordable housing on county-owned public housing sites. Qualifying for the pool does not guarantee future work, but implies that the vendor has successfully demonstrated its qualifications for projects in the pipeline.
Barbara Bobbie Ibarra, executive director of The Miami Coalition for the Homeless, echoed Edmonsons sentiments of support. She said Carlisles Greer has helped transform the countys portfolio of affordable housing including providing rental apartments for teenagers in foster care who turn 18 and age out of the foster system.
Ibarra said Carlisle set aside 12 apartments for foster-care teens at the 208-unit Santa Clara complex in Allapattah, and has allocated nine more apartments in the 22-unit Anchorage Apartments in Liberty City, which plans a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.