Miami-Dade County

New Liberty Square apartments almost ready, but federal shutdown could delay Phase 2

Miami-Dade County and other officials break ground during a ceremony to launch the redevelopment of the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City in May 2017. Less than a year later, the first of roughly 200 units are almost available for occupancy.
Miami-Dade County and other officials break ground during a ceremony to launch the redevelopment of the Liberty Square Rising project in Liberty City in May 2017. Less than a year later, the first of roughly 200 units are almost available for occupancy. For the Miami Herald

The reconstruction of Miami-Dade’s downtrodden Liberty Square housing complex is far enough along that dozens of residents can move into new apartments this spring.

But paperwork delays from the 35-day federal shutdown that ended Jan. 25 could push back the next construction phase in one of the largest public-housing projects in the country.

“They’re playing catch-up,” Miami-Dade housing chief Michael Liu said Friday of the county’s contacts at the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. “They’ve got all this work piled up. Our project is one of them. We’re trying to push them to keep us at the top of the deck. Because we lose weeks, months” if there is a delay in closing on federal financing for parts of Liberty Square.

Liu spoke the same day that Liberty Square’s existing residents began selecting where they will live in the new complex — a milestone for a multi-year construction project that launched in early 2017.

Construction on the first phase of Liberty Square is almost finished, meaning roughly 200 apartments are expected to start filling up with residents within about two months. Of those, 73 will replace public housing units demolished in the existing, 1937 Liberty Square complex. More than 100 more will be part of the county’s affordable-housing programs, where rents are generally below market but not at the highly subsidized prices available in public housing units.

The $307 million project by the Related Group includes a mix of private, federal and county funds, and will replace the current Liberty Square complex’s 709 public housing units with a much larger facility that includes about 1,500 units. There will more public housing units than currently exist at Liberty Square, and the county has emphasized that existing residents must be given units in the new complex.

An existing Liberty Square unit, one of hundreds that will be replaced with a new housing project with a mix of public-housing, affordable and market-rate units. The first units in the new complex will be available for residents this spring, but there are concerns a paperwork lag from the federal shutdown will delay the start of the second phase. Emily Michot

Liberty Square is at the heart of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, which was the subject of a one-senator field hearing Friday when Marco Rubio convened a panel on economic revival there. Officially a hearing of the Republican senator’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the event highlighted the need to bring prosperity to Liberty City without pushing out existing businesses and residents.

“We welcome all people,” said Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, an elected school board member who grew up in the Liberty Square complex before becoming the first in her family to attend college. “But we don’t want to be pushed out.”

“We’re here to talk about upward mobility for the people who are here,” Rubio said during the morning event at the Sandrell Rivers Theater. “We’re not here today to talk about gentrification.”

People living in existing Liberty Square units are being moved into rehabbed units in the current complex until the new apartments are ready. New residents will be living in the mix of units that are outside of the county’s public housing program, including dozens of condominiums that will be for sale.

The units in the county’s affordable program are available to families with an income in the range of $63,000 or less, and the more expensive apartments in the county’s workforce program are available to families of four with an income of $110,000 or less.

Liberty Square apartments in the affordable and workforce categories will rent for up to $1,250 a month, said Albert Milo, a Related executive. About 130 apartments in those programs will be available in the first phase of the Liberty Square project that’s nearing completion.

HUD’s media office was unavailable for comment Friday on whether paperwork delays might slow the flow of federal funding for the next phase of Liberty Square.

Milo said Related can make up for minor delays in HUD financing as it pursues a construction timeline for the more than 200 units to be built in phase two that would have the next wave of apartments done by the end of 2019.

For now, Milo said his main concern is the possibility that the White House and congressional Democrats can’t agree to fund the government past the Feb. 15 expiration of the current three-week spending extension.

“We’re hopeful that there’s not a new government shutdown,” he said.