If Miami-Dade County gets it right this time, then the demolition of yet another crime-wracked, substandard public-housing complex in the heart of Liberty City, indeed, will be a “game-changer.” If the grandiose proposal goes awry, then “game-changer” will be just another overused cliche.
Worse, the lives of the beleaguered residents would have been upended for no good reason.
However, there are encouraging indications that county officials have taken the lessons of past missteps to heart. As County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Editorial Board, they want to do something “transformational.”
The fact that the Liberty Square public-housing project still stands — and still is desperately needed — is a sad testament to the enduring nature of poverty in this community and, as bad, the lack of a way out. When built during the New Deal era to house African-American families in a segregated Miami, it was a step up from the run-down conditions in which some of the residents lived. It was welcoming, safe — it was home.
No more. Liberty Square is plagued by crime, aging, inadequate units and residents’ sense of resignation that nothing will improve. Residents are anything but safe, and even though some criminals that terrorize residents come from outside the complex, too many others live within Liberty Square. Last year, 43 people were shot in the area; seven died.
In addition, housing that was to be transitional, home until residents were able to move on and out of subsidized units, has become generational instead, as families stay and stay for decades.
Mayor Gimenez wants to do more than overhaul the county’s oldest public-housing project. He wants to raze it and rebuild from the ground up. And he’s willing to place $74 million of county funds into a public-private partnership to redevelop the huge maze of one- and two-story buildings.
In its place would rise a mixed-income complex with retail and commercial space and units to accommodate the families who have to move while construction happens. The county learned the hard way that displacing people in public housing far from their jobs, relatives, childcare, churches and schools can have a damaging effect on families.
Some families have yet to find their footing 15 years after being displaced from the James E. Scott public-housing project in Central Miami-Dade when it was slated to be rebuilt. Many residents ended up living in the south end of the county, miles from their support systems and, without cars, unable to access them easily. Still others were displaced to the north, where Liberty Square gang members — who, we think, should not be living in housing at taxpayers’ expense — were suddenly the neighbors of their enemies, fueling violent mayhem in some neighborhoods.
This time, the mayor says, new housing will be built on land nearby, and the first group of Liberty Square residents will move there while other new homes are built. County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson wisely pushed this phased-in approach.
New buildings alone will not eliminate what plagues Liberty Square. Police from different jurisdictions — and with limited resources — must work in tandem to crack down on the gang violence. And jobs are key. Mr. Gimenez wants to ensure, through his initiative, Employ Miami-Dade, that residents are trained to assume jobs in the construction of the new project. He has a bold vision that deserves support.
These are the first, vital steps to changing the game.