Mayor orders housing to be filled up asap

Frustrated by the number of public housing units that remain empty despite thousands of people on waiting lists, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez directed county officials Monday to move families into the vacant homes as soon as possible.

Alvarez's memo to County Manager George Burgess comes on the heels of an investigation by The Miami Herald that showed the county's housing program to be rife with questionable dealings and gross mismanagement. Multimillion-dollar projects slated for low-income housing were left to languish, the newspaper investigation found.

A federal grand jury is investigating the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, and several top managers have been removed from their posts.

On Monday, Alvarez pointed to nearly 900 units already built but that remain vacant.

It's the result, he said, of a shortage of maintenance staff to perform repairs and renovations before the homes can be occupied. Alvarez demanded a report detailing when those units can be filled.

Another 100 vacant units are ready for occupancy but remain empty. He called those vacancies "unacceptable."

The mayor's statement came a day before the Miami Workers Center was to outline a 12-point plan to try and ease the housing crunch for low-income families.

Workers Center spokeswoman Sushma Sheth said her organization launched a "Fill the Vacancies" campaign in 2002 "to basically expose problems."

According to Sheth, there are more than 40,000 families in Miami-Dade right now who are on a waiting list for affordable housing.

Families are chosen as homes open up through a lottery system.