Miami-Dade County

Face of housing crisis home at last

She grinned in the kitchen, danced in the den, threw up her hands in the bedroom and shouted ``We did it! We did it!''

On Friday, Ozie Porter finally got her house.She grew up sharing a room with five siblings and raised her own children in Miami's public housing - more than 15 years in cramped apartments, nothing to call her own.In 2001, Porter enrolled in a homebuyer's club, cleaned up her credit and saved $5,000 on a cook's salary. But she couldn't find an affordable house - only waiting lists and developers who backed out without building.So when the 53-year-old grandmother who has become the face of Miami's affordable housing crisis claimed the keys on Friday to a new three-bedroom with vaulted ceilings, granite counters and more space than she has ever known, she simply beamed.``This is my home,'' she said. ``This is my home.''Porter's struggle in a county reeling from one of the nation's worst affordable housing shortages was chronicled two months ago in The Miami Herald's investigation ``House of Lies,'' which exposed widespread mismanagement and misspending within the Miami-Dade Housing Agency.In recent weeks, a series of government agencies pulled together to help Porter snare the house in Liberty City at a coveted price of $179,000.The home, with peach accents and Italian tile, was built by developer Ario Lundy on land donated by the city of Miami. The county's Housing Finance Authority patched together financing and subsidies to lower Porter's mortgage payment to $229.On Friday, her mother and son, along with local officials, reporters, photographers and friends, squeezed into the new house to watch Porter become a homeowner. She raced from room to room, wiping away tears.She saw her title agent and pulled her into the master bedroom, saying, ``It's got his-and-hers closets.''She saw her lending officer and marched her into the utility room, boasting, ``It leads into the double-car garage. Isn't that beautiful?''She saw the director of the Housing Finance Authority, Patricia Braynon, and pointed to the four-tiered fountain the builder fixed in the front yard.Porter sighed: ``I can just sit here and meditate.''She knows she's lucky: Thousands of Miami-Dade families are still searching for decent homes in a county with spiraling real estate costs and stagnant wages. Among those waiting is her friend Cynthia Jefferson, who showed up Friday at the new house to help celebrate.As Porter signed her first mortgage, Jefferson choked back tears.A sandwich-maker at Burger King, she pays $650 a month for a two-bedroom rental she can barely afford. She was among more than 800 families forced out of public housing in Liberty City when the Housing Agency promised to rebuild the community, adding 411 new homes. After six years, three houses have been built.``I'm trying to make the best of it,'' Jefferson said. ``It's either that or give up and go live in a shelter. If Ozie can do it, I guess I can do it.''Porter's lending coordinator, Milli Membiela, knows dozens of families in similar straits.``We need houses. We need more subsidies,'' she said. ``The people waiting - they are every color, every race. . . . We need to be able to move faster.''Porter, whose emotional account of her search was broadcast recently at a packed town hall meeting, started looking more than four years ago. Driving with her son on a Sunday, they spotted a shaded corner lot with easy access to mass transit.Her son said, ``Mama, that's the one.''But the house eventually fell through; others were lost to families in the long line ahead of her.Porter focused mostly on infill housing, where the government gives land to developers in exchange for houses that poor families can afford. Since 2001, however, only about 190 of 580 houses promised to the county Housing Agency have been delivered.And even when houses were built, The Miami Herald found, some developers bypassed the poor to sell to wealthy buyers or investors.Porter spent hours hunting for a place to live. Every day, she went home to the projects, where for four years she kept a picture of a three-bedroom house in her front room.``I didn't want to give up on my home,'' she said.At work, she earned a promotion, enrolling in a training program for cafeteria managers at Miami-Dade Public Schools. Weekends, she played with her grandkids.But she couldn't stop thinking about a house. She kept calling the Housing Finance Authority, where officials were scrambling to find Porter a home and financing.They ended up in Miami, and with help from the city, SunTrust Bank, the Housing Agency, the Metro-Miami Action Plan, the Housing Finance Authority and the Miami-Dade Affordable Housing Foundation, Porter got her house.On Friday, she signed loan papers to shouts of ``hallelujah!'' Then came the big moment: She got the keys.She rushed outside to test them, a crowd gathering around her. She hugged her friends. Talked to reporters. Thanked the staff at the Housing Finance Authority. She waved and said goodbye.Then Porter turned back around - and went home.