Continuing the local government upheaval following The Miami Herald's House of Lies series, affordable housing developer Oscar Rivero has resigned from his position as chairman of the board of the Miami Parking Authority, effective immediately.
Rivero, who was named to the authority's board in 2000, submitted his letter of resignation to Executive Director Art Noriega on Friday. The authority issued an official statement over the weekend.
"He wanted to focus on some personal things," Noriega said. Of Rivero's demeanor during the exchange, Noriega said, "He seemed to be doing fine."
Rivero, a 36-year-old attorney, was featured prominently in The Miami Herald's series on the troubled Miami-Dade Housing Agency. He is part of a small group of developers and consultants involved in some of the Housing Agency's most questionable projects. "It's pretty clear that the reason he resigned is he's involved in this housing problem that you guys have reported on," said parking authority board member Jami Reyes.
From 2002 to 2004, Rivero's development companies received $1.6 million from the Housing Agency for two affordable housing projects that were never built, The Miami Herald found.
Rivero has not returned the money; Miami-Dade County filed suit to recover it last month. Rivero did not return calls made to his Coral Gables office Monday.
In a previous written statement to The Miami Herald, Rivero promised to repay the money, saying, "Extenuating circumstances, including unforeseeable increases in construction costs . . . have delayed the delivery of the units."
In one case, The Miami Herald found, longtime Housing Agency Director Rene Rodriguez ordered a $500,000 check cut to Rivero's company for a proposed 24-unit development called Riverside Homes, off Northwest 85th Street on the fringes of Little Haiti.
The money was transferred even though records showed Rivero had not started construction, did not have builders' risk insurance to protect the county from liability, and had not paid the required $10,000 commitment fee to the Housing Agency.
The Housing Agency later paid another $264,000 for the project. Nothing has ever been built. Today, the lot sits empty, strewn with tires and beer bottles.
Even with that project stalled, the Housing Agency gave Rivero's company $816,000 in 2004 for another affordable housing project in Little Havana. Instead of spending the money on construction, however, records show Rivero told the agency he was going to use most of the tax dollars to pay down private debt.
No homes were ever built.
Besides the $1.6 million from the Housing Agency, the city of Miami's Department of Community Development paid Rivero's company $530,000 for one of the two stalled building projects.
In his resignation letter to the parking authority, Rivero wrote, "I believe that it is in my own best interest to devote the time I normally dedicate voluntarily to the agency to other, more pressing, personal needs. In addition, I will take this opportunity to spend more time with my family and three young children."
As chairman of the parking authority, Rivero played a key role in setting policy for a quasi-independent government agency that manages more than 22,000 parking spaces and last year boasted revenues of nearly $14 million. The parking authority will begin discussions on how to fill Rivero's vacancy on Wednesday, though the selection process may take several months to complete.
Rivero's resignation follows a severe Housing Agency shake-up prompted by the growing scandal.
Last week, County Manager George Burgess ousted six agency officials as well as its former director. At a public rally on Friday, affordable-housing advocates held up pictures of Rivero and others involved in the Housing Agency's problems. His parking authority resignation, community leaders said, is only the first step toward accountability.
"At the very least, the county should be calling him in for questioning and to make him accountable for what he took and what he plans to do to pay it back," said Denise Perry, with the Power U Center for Social Change.
Said Sushma Sheth of the Miami Workers Center: "This should be just the beginning. We need a systematic overhaul of the rules and structures to weed this out; we need public oversight over public money for housing."