Mayor Carlos Alvarez audio
Furious at what he called the most troubling report he has seen since taking office, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez on Monday cited a Miami Herald series that has found millions of dollars squandered on failed housing projects . and called for a host of investigations into the troubled Miami-Dade Housing Agency.
Alvarez, the former county police director who based his 2004 campaign for mayor on an anti-public corruption platform, said some allegations were already being looked into by the police department, then called for separate investigations by the county
Inspector General and the State Attorney's Office.
Slapping the dais during a hastily-called news conference in his Southwest Miami-Dade office, Alvarez called on County Manager
George Burgess to find out what went wrong and to discipline those responsible.
"It affects our poor, our people in need," said Alvarez.
"The Miami-Dade Housing Agency has failed in its mission to do its job."
Burgess said Monday that shortly after MDHA Director Alphonso
Brewster resigned in April, the county manager's office began its own inquiry to track the Housing Agency's money.
Burgess said he contacted the county Inspector General and the public corruptions arm of the police department. He has also requested the first audit in at least five years of the construction money.
The Miami Herald's investigation, which began in January, found the agency doled out millions of dollars to well-connected developers, who built little or nothing.
The newspaper series, House of Lies, which showed empty lots where affordable homes were supposed to have been built, found that developers have received more than $12 million over the past five years for homes never built.
Alvarez, flanked Monday by Commissioner Katy Sorenson and the county's senior advisor on housing issues, Cynthia Curry, said:
"I want administrative action taken swiftly."
The mayor also wants to retrieve public money awarded to those who failed to abide by contracts, perhaps by filing lawsuits. And he said he'd study a possible moratorium on the use of public lands and money.
Detailed results of the county manager's review of the housing agency have not been released, but a preliminary report last week found a series of deficiencies, including the agency's inability to track much of the money spent on affordable housing projects in recent years.
But to Alvarez, the newspaper's findings came as a shock.
"Quite frankly, the magnitude of the problem I was not aware of,'' he said.
State Attorney Spokesman Ed Griffith confirmed his agency and the police corruption unit are looking into many of the allegations. Prosecutors have issued subpoenas and removed records.
Burgess said he became aware of problems in the agency two years ago, but he was focused on other issues, including construction cost overruns at Miami International Airport and the
Performing Arts Center, and a $2.9 billion bond issue passed by voters for county improvements.
"It was like, ÓWhere do I begin?' Housing was never presented by my staff or was even on the radar screen,'' Burgess said. He noted that he hired Curry in February to clean up the agency.
County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez also weighed in on Monday. He told Burgess in a one-page memo the problems raised in the Herald report "depict an exuberant disregard for the public trust that appears to have disenfranchised the neediest in our community.''
Without being specific, Alvarez said several issues involving the MDHA came to light after former housing director Rene Rodriguez resigned in 2004. But he called the depth of the Herald investigation "alarming.''
"The department as a whole has failed in accomplishing its mission,'' said the mayor. "There is no way that you can sugarcoat something like this. It is a tragedy."