Miami-Dade County commissioners expressed outrage Tuesday about two real estate developers who received more than $350,000 in public funds after selling ostensibly renovated but rapidly crumbling condominiums to low-income families in Little Havana.
Commissioners said they would seek legal ways to hold the developers accountable for selling the units in the Havana Palms complex.
“We need to make sure that we hold people responsible,” said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa at Tuesday’s meeting. “There has to be protection for the residents and for the peoples’ money.”
The commission unanimously approved a resolution to convert into grants the zero-to-low-interest loans of seven families who had received county aid to buy the condos in 2006 and 2007.
The county has not figured out how to recover the money from developers Anibal Duarte-Viera and Gabriel De la Campa, who in 2006 converted the 60-year-old complex to condos. Through Montara Land Company V, LLC., the developers sold 19 of the 32 units from 2006 to 2011.
Most buyers were low-income families who received loans and grants from the county and the city of Miami.
Duarte-Viera and De la Campa did not return calls from El Nuevo Herald Tuesday evening.
El Nuevo Herald has documented the plight of the families in Havana Palms, where the floor of one unit collapsed in January. A few weeks later, the city declared the buildings unsafe and ordered their owners out, although several families are still living there because they have nowhere else to go.
After Tuesday’s vote, Jenny Marquez, one of the Havana Palms condo owners, said she was relieved to have the support of the county.
“I am happy that they put the blame on the developers, as it should be, and that the truth is finally out,” said Marquez. “This is a great victory after much struggle.”
For years, families complained to the developers, the city and the county about the uneven floors and plumbing problems. The developers had installed tile floors on top of a layer of cement over old wood floors, but records show that they didn’t obtain the proper permits for that.
The city also made mistakes by passing a 40-year recertification of the condition of the building, although municipal inspectors had reported the deterioration of the wood beams that supported the floors.
In April, the city forgave another $430,000 in loans to families who had bought at Havana Palms.
County Attorney Brenda Neuman expressed reservations about the possibility of recovering the money. However, the commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez insisted that they should explore all legal avenues.
“We have to do our due diligence to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Gimenez said in an interview with El Nuevo Herald before the vote. “The owners were likely taken by a developer, and that is not right.”
Duarte-Viera has told El Nuevo Herald that he played a small role in the conversion and management of the buildings and that he was only an investor. De la Campa has not returned multiple messages from El Nuevo Herald since February.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Commissioner Sally Heyman said she wanted to expose the developers who sold the crumbling condos. She appeared to refer to a friendship between her colleague Bruno Barreiro and Duarte-Viera, who is a board member on the commissioner’s nonprofit foundation. “It is my understanding that Mr. Duarte-Viera and Mr. De la Campa are registered agents of many companies and members of community organizations,” said Heyman. “Let’s make it clear that these are people who didn’t meet their responsibilities and shouldn’t have any business with the county.”