If T. Willard Fair gets his way, there will be a little bit of South Beach in Liberty City.
On Friday morning, the Urban League of Greater Miami celebrated the grand opening of The Villages Miami Apartments, a $40 million modern residential community with 150 units of affordable housing.
Fair stressed that this is not your everyday affordable housing facility. Amenities include a private clubhouse, pool, exercise complex, and private security. Friday also marked the grand opening of the Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall Social and Economic Institute, an onsite resource center named after the Miami-Dade School Board Member.
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“We’re gonna show you it can’t only happen in Wynwood and South Beach,” Fair said. “It can happen in Liberty City.”
About 200 members of the local community joined in the festivities, which were led by Fair, the CEO and executive director of the Urban League. For him, the construction of the facility is part of a more than 50-year-long personal campaign to revitalize the area. The Villages project alone has taken between 10 and 15 years of collaboration, Fair said.
“I went to Liberty City and I saw all these boarded-up houses,” Fair said. “And I said I was going to be the affordable housing person in Liberty City.”
All 150 of the development’s apartments, between one and three bedrooms in size, are occupied, said Cesar Licona, maintenance supervisor and resident of The Villages. The waiting list is now a year long. Lenore Sapp, one of the building’s residents, said she was drawn by safety, affordability and cleanliness. Her apartment was so well decorated that several journalists rummaged through her drawers, thinking it was just a model apartment.
The grand opening of the apartments was just part of the day’s spectacle. Also announced was the We Rise Educational Village, a partnership with over 30 community organizations with the goal of improving education in Liberty City.
Among the initiatives pushed by Fair was allowing low-income employees of local schools to live in the apartment complex.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho spoke at the event, expressing his hope for the future of local schools. For the first time ever, Carvalho said, the Miami-Dade Public School system was named an A-rated district. In Liberty City, a site of frequent past failures, all schools received a passing grade.
Fair also preached a message of increased self-sufficiency and increased parental emphasis on education, which he said was crucial in improving local schools.
“If your mommy doesn’t think you can learn, why are you gonna learn?” Fair asked. “If your daddy doesn’t hug you except at the football game, why are you gonna learn?”
The audience, which ranged in age from kids to grandparents, remained upbeat throughout the event, even as the temperature under the tent rose. Many said it was nice to see an organization like the Urban League taking action in a previously under-used area.
“It is wonderful to come to Liberty City and see buildings that affirm self-worth and human dignity,” said Jonathan Spikes, executive director of Affirming Youth, a local youth organization. “I thank Mr. Fair and Urban League for transforming this community.”