LAND TRANSFERS

Agency snubs Habitat, gives lots to board chairman's partner
Instead of letting Habitat for Humanity build free houses on 66 vacant lots, the MDHA Development Corp. gave a lucrative development deal to a for-profit company.

When county commissioners transferred 66 vacant lots to the nonprofit MDHA Development Corp. last year, Anne Manning seized the moment.

The executive director of Miami Habitat for Humanity, one of the most productive affordable housing developers in Miami-Dade County, asked the nonprofit for the chance to build houses on the lots.

No money would change hands. Habitat, which has built 200 houses on similar lots since 1990, would front the construction money itself.

But the nonprofit took a different route.

Instead of accepting free houses from Habitat, the nonprofit funneled a development deal to the Atlanta-based Red Rock Global, which is in business with the nonprofit's longtime board member and current chairman, Alben Duffie.

Duffie's company, Teja Associates, is partnering with Red Rock on a Miami Parking Authority project.

The nonprofit's 66 lots come with $2.5 million in construction money from county commissioners. The project, estimated at $13.5 million, includes a $1.7 million developer's fee, which Red Rock and the nonprofit would split.

Habitat for Humanity charges no developer's fee.

"Sickening," Manning said. "And we asked them for a zero-million-dollar contract almost two years ago."

In charge of the MiamiDade Housing Agency's land program at the time the lots were given to the nonprofit was Emma Duffie, wife of the nonprofit's chairman. Nonprofit officials insist there was no conflict because Emma Duffie did not participate in the land deal; a Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics opinion in 2005 found that as long as Alben Duffie stayed out of any talks, there was no problem.

But other developers question the ties, especially since the deal to build on the county's land was awarded to Alben Duffie's business partner.

At a recent board meeting, nonprofit Vice President Allen Fuller questioned the fine print of the Red Rock deal.

"I think you've got issues all over the place," he said.

But he was quickly shot down by other board members and Executive Director Maria de Pedro-Gonzalez, who argued, "If we can't vote . . . it's going to hold up the project."

The deal passed. Duffie wasn't present.

The nonprofit's attorney, Mitchell Bierman, said Duffie was not involved in the negotiations with Red Rock.

"He didn't have anything to do with that," Bierman said.

Duffie declined to comment.