- Faith & Family
With many of its residents living at or below the poverty level and because of numerous reports of violence and drug trafficking, the City of Opa-locka has been labeled as one of South Florida’s most dangerous communities. But after receiving a $20M federal grant from the Department of Housing & Urban Development’s
Neighborhood Stabilization Program [NSP], leaders from public and private organizations, in concert with elected officials, are well on their way to improving Opa-locka’s image and making life better for its citizens.
The CDC, a private, independent corporation is not part of the City of Opa-locka. However, as Logan points out, they do have a strong partnership, primarily because the City’s CRA is yet unstaffed. But what are the specifics of the grant and who gets the money? Logan explained.
How the grant was won
“There was one competitive round that allowed community based organizations [CBOs] to compete with local and state governments for funding,” he said. “We were the only one in South Florida to be funded. Opa-locka CDC is one of six members that formed a consortium including: St. Johns CDC in Overtown, Little Haiti CDC, the Urban League of Greater Miami, Neighborhood Housing of South Florida [NHSF] and Carrfour. My organization was the writer of the grant and at the start all six organizations came together and said how much money they would need, given their goals for the three-year period of the grant. In total our consortium was awarded $89M — $20M of that went to Opa-locka CDC. Our total grant was the third largest in the U.S. — only the State of California and the State of Michigan were awarded more, at $100M and $90M, respectively. NHSF serves as the leading organization and will also serve as the fiscal agent for the consortium. That means they’re in charge of the money.”
Improving a damaged reputation
“Obviously outside of Opa-locka, we have a bad reputation but whether that’s earned or deserved is up to each individual,” said Dr. Willie F. Logan, president/CEO, Opa-locka Community Development Corporation [CDC]. “Crime is relatively high in this low-income area in comparison to others but then what inner city area with a similar poverty level and low educational achievement doesn’t have the same level of crime? It all goes with being low-income in this country. Utilizing the funds from the grant we hope to first, reconnect with the residents to provide the type of housing that will attract additional and new residents and better housing for those who currently live here so that they have a better outlook on life.”
Logan, who has served as the founder, president and CEO of the Opa-locka CDC for all of its 32 years, says his group has been leading the planning process to bring change to the City. Those changes include: new housing, job training, assistance with substance abuse and the purging of criminal records and other social services aimed at assisting parents with children. For the past week, Opa-locka’s citizens have been invited to a host of events that are geared towards bringing residents on board and involving them in the “new Opa-locka.”
The week of celebration, which began last Saturday with a picnic, ends on Friday, Oct. 19 with a gala event at the Opa-locka Executive Airport on the Tarmac featuring the R&B group En Vogue.
“This is the first time that our organization has gotten a financial infusion of such of a significant amount and it’s all due to the current administration [President Barack Obama] realizing that communities like ours needed help to rebuild after the foreclosure crisis hit,” Logan said. “We can revitalize communities that are struggling if the resources are there. And we believe that Opa-locka’s Triangle is small enough so that we can put our arms around it. This is a partnership that we’ve established and while the CDC won’t direct all of the new services that are coming here we will serve as the facilitator. The key is that our emphasis has changed to being people-oriented because until you deal with the issues facing our community every day, residents won’t fully be able to take advantage of new opportunities.”
Logan points to construction projects that are already underway as a sign of progress. His organization has purchased a number of dilapidated homes and have hired members of the community to work on them — tearing them down or rebuilding them.
County Commissioner Barbara Jordan believes that the future is bright for Opa-locka.
“Once people see new homes completed they will begin to have new hope for this community and for their lives,” she said. “When I was elected to represent District One, one of my first goals was housing revitalization,” she said. “This $20M infusion gives us a tremendous opportunity to improve life for the citizens of Opa-locka. The events from this week will give new attention to the project. This City was hit hard in the economic downturn but we’ve really started to turn things around since 2004. The problem in terms of our image is that you rarely hear the good news about Opa-locka or that there are reasons to celebrate. The media has tended to paint everything with a broad stroke rather than acknowledge the good that is occurring. Still, I am going to take a wait and see attitude on this . . .”
Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor was contacted on several occasions but did not respond to our request for an interview.
By D. Kevin McNeir