The chairman of Miami-Dade’s homeless board also lobbies for a charity that recently won more than $700,000 in federal dollars through a board-run grant process that saw other homeless providers lose $6 million in homeless aid from Washington.
Ronald Book, a top Florida lobbyist who also presides over the county’s $59 million homeless budget, earns about $50,000 a year lobbying for the Advocate Program, a nonprofit offering various social services in Miami. The Advocate Program recently secured a $728,000 federal grant through the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, where Book has served as chairman for more than a decade.
Book said he represents the Advocate Program on matters not related to homeless funds. Minutes show he announced his conflict and excused himself from a Homeless Trust committee vote last fall involving the Advocate Program and its pursuit of a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That Nov. 13 vote endorsed the Homeless Trust staff’s plan to put the Advocate Program and more than 70 other providers in a top-priority pool of applicants for HUD funds. The vote also put about two dozen others on a lower tier that subjected them to a national competition for the aid, which resulted in HUD denying about $6.1 million in Miami-Dade grant requests.
“When the matter came up, I recused myself,” Book said this week. “I was not in the room.”
Book’s business ties to a homeless-services provider add another wrinkle to his unusually prominent role as the de facto chief of Miami-Dade’s homeless programs. Consistently exempted from term-limit rules by the same county commissioners who hired him to represent Miami-Dade in Tallahassee, Book dominates the Homeless Trust board and also exerts daily influence on the county’s homeless agency.
When commissioners met Tuesday to address what Book and others have described as a funding crisis brought on by the denied federal money, the full-time staff for the Homeless Trust did not answer questions. Instead, Book joined county budget chief Jennifer Moon to field all inquiries and lay out the next steps — including an appeal in Washington. He also knocked down earlier warnings from county officials that some residents of domestic-violence shelters would need to leave within weeks once current funds expire.
“Some notion,” Book said, “that my staff — our staff, our collective staff — had somehow told people you have to put people out on the street June 1 is just inaccurate.”
I was not in the room.
Ronald Book, chairman of Miami-Dade’s homeless board and a lobbyist, on a client pursuing a grant from the panel
Bob Dickinson, a Homeless Trust board member who also serves as chairman of the Camillus House homeless-service provider in Miami, described Book as insisting on full control of the county’s homeless efforts.
“History has shown that Ron doesn’t stand for any interference,” said Dickinson, the former CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. Dickinson said he wasn’t aware of Book’s business relationship to a provider. “I imagine that will certainly raise some questions,” he said.
This was the Miami-based Advocate Program’s first year applying for money through the Homeless Trust, said CEO David McGriff. The nonprofit already runs a homeless-assistance programs for veterans, but McGriff said federal money for that service comes through the Veterans Department.
McGriff said Book is the Advocate Program’s lone lobbyist. Book was hired several years ago, McGriff said, when a change in state law endangered the Advocate Program’s treatment programs for drunk-driving offenders that the nonprofit runs for the state. “We hired Ron, and the next year he actually had it taken out of the legislation,” he said.
Tax records show the Advocate Program paid $50,000 for lobbying services in 2014, and McGriff said that’s what the nonprofit pays Book.
With offices in Aventura and Tallahassee, Book represents more than 100 clients, including Miami-Dade County itself. A 2011 solicitation of business that his firm sent Hallandale Beach boasted that “Ron has developed a client list that is literally a ‘who’s who’ of local governments, business and industry, health care and not-for-profit associations.”
The proposal listed his firm’s fees from local governments alone at $1.3 million a year. (Book won the contract and now serves as Hallandale Beach’s lobbyist in Tallahassee.)
McGriff said Book didn’t help with his pursuit of a grant through the Homeless Trust. “We had no intention of dealing with Ron for that stuff,” McGriff said. “But we also didn’t want to get punished because he’s our lobbyist.”
The Advocate Group already runs treatment programs related to domestic-violence offenders. McGriff said those services sparked interest in providing more housing for domestic-violence victims. Last fall it submitted a HUD application through the Homeless Trust for a program that would use rent subsidies to quickly place battered women and their children into market-rate apartments.
“We’re always looking for ways to expand the program,” he said. “We’ve seen a need for some time.”
Miami-Dade’s homeless-grant requests to HUD have never gotten so much public attention, as elected leaders, providers and others try to sort through how the county ended up taking a severe hit in the annual application process.
We had no intention of dealing with Ron for that stuff. But we also didn’t want to get punished because he’s our lobbyist.
Advocate Program CEO David McGriff
For the last two years, each local government had to cull programs into two tiers of grant applicants: Tier 1, which would be all but guaranteed funding, and Tier 2, which would be subject to a national competition with providers across the country. Even with the tiered system, the selection process wasn’t too agonizing since the second tier was limited to less than 5 percent of existing HUD funding for all agencies.
That changed this year, when HUD increased the Tier 2 funding to 15 percent of an agency’s existing federal funds. Miami-Dade ended up requesting $6.3 million in Tier 2 grants this year but HUD awarded the county only $640,000 of them. Among the losing programs: the Inn Transition domestic-violence shelters and its $900,000 requests, and the New Hope drug-treatment center for about $430,000.
Both are institutions in Miami-Dade’s homeless-services network, and were safe in Tier 1 for last year’s funding round. The Homeless Trust shifted them to Tier 2 this year as part of a larger culling to comply with HUD’s far more competitive grant-making landscape.
The Advocate Program landed one of the Homeless Trust’s 71 slots on Tier 1, according to a spreadsheet provided by staff. HUD awarded about $27 million to Miami-Dade’s Tier 1 applicants earlier this year, and announced the disappointing Tier 2 grants on May 2.
There was some disagreement Wednesday on whether the Advocate Program’s application bumped existing programs out of Tier 1. The Homeless Trust submitted the Advocate Program’s $728,444 request under HUD’s “bonus” category, which is reserved for new programs that meet certain federal requirements.
Manny Sarria, deputy director of Miami-Dade’s Homeless Trust, said that because the Advocate application qualified for bonus status, it wasn’t counted against the county’s Tier 1 allocation. It “didn’t impact Tier 1 or Tier 2,” he wrote.
Brian Sullivan, a HUD spokesman, said bonus applications do count against a local agency’s Tier 1 allocation. Scoring aside, he described Tier 1 as the place to be when pursuing HUD money.
“If a new project was put into Tier 1, whether it got a bonus or not, that signals to me your local [agency] decided it was a program it absolutely wanted to get funding for,” Sullivan said. “As opposed to putting it in Tier 2, when it had to participate in this hyper-competitive environment.”