Liberty Square Rising’s debut is a promise kept; don’t ignore other vows | Editorial

Sharon Gregory, 63 and a 17-year resident, is the first resident to be move into new Liberty Square Rising apartment.
Sharon Gregory, 63 and a 17-year resident, is the first resident to be move into new Liberty Square Rising apartment. Miami Herald

In less than a week’s time, two events have been launched that should make life better for residents of Miami’s historic black neighborhood of Liberty City. We emphasize “should” because the debut of Liberty City Rising is the beginning, not the end, of the quest to bring opportunity, safety and security to residents who, unfortunately, have to fight for every little benefit they get.

Expectations are high. The stakes even higher.

On Monday, Housing Secretary Ben Carson came to Miami to help local Miami-Dade leaders unveil the first phase of Liberty Square Rising, the more-than-$300 million redevelopment of Liberty Square, built in 1937, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. It was the first public housing project for African Americans in a rabidly segregated South. It’s the oldest in the region, and by the time it was almost eight decades old, its age was more than showing, both in the deteriorating apartments and in the surrounding violent streets.

Phase One comprises six brand-new buildings, with 73 public-housing units reserved for households making less than 30 percent of the Miami-Dade area median income; and 121 affordable-housing units ready for occupancy at 6512 NW 14th Ave.

Eventually, all of Liberty Square’s original 709 units will be replaced with a mix of 1,455 public-housing, affordable-housing and market-rate units, plus shops, parks and community facilities.

It’s a breath of fresh air and a fresh start for a neighborhood that has seen mainly blight and violence for too long.

The $46 million first phase, spearheaded by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez as a campaign promise in 2016 and constructed by Related Urban Development Group, was funded through a combination of county, city, state and federal dollars. There was understandable skepticism and mistrust of Gimenez’s massive undertaking. Residents often thought their voices were being ignored. We commend Gimenez for making adjustments and getting this project up and, now, running. We commend, too, Commissioner Audrey Edmonson for ensuring residents were heard.

The beauty of the project is that no residents have been displaced during the construction, which also is providing jobs for local residents.

Carson said the project could become a model for housing developments around the nation, adding that it’s an example of “lifting people out of poverty and into the American Dream.” Let’s hope he means it. So far, many of his policies seem to ensure the opposite.

Now, other promises must be kept, including job training and other on-site services for residents and, most important, safety from the violence that has roiled Liberty Square for too long.

Liberty Square’s debut was preceded last month by Miami commissioners finally approving trolley service for Liberty City residents, even though residents of other, more affluent, neighborhoods have enjoyed similar free transportation since 2012.

Leaders of the Hadley Park Neighborhood Association have kept copies of old city agendas detailing new trolley additions time and time again without any mention of Liberty City, a failure not only of city administrators, but also of those elected over the years to represent the neighborhood.

Two green and orange trolleys will run Monday through Saturday along major corridors, including Northwest Seventh, 12th and 17th avenues and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

It’s about time. No, it’s irresponsibly overdue.