Fresh ideas result in housing boom

caines | 12/20/2012, 4:30 a.m.

Foreclosed buildings rehabbed with homeless citizens in mind

With the mantra of fixing one block at a time, City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, was joined by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, George Mensah, director, Department of Community & Economic Development, members of the Liberty City Revitalization Trust and others during the recent ribbon cutting for Petera Plaza [1525 NW 60th Street]. The rental building, named after the late Petera Johnson, a leading HIV/AIDS activist, will also connect its tenants with health care and other needed social services. This may not be headline news but its still very important, Regalado said. This place will improve the quality of life for people who have longed for a safe, affordable place to live. The building will be managed by Empower U, Inc. the Liberty City-based program that targets those living with HIV/AIDS. This is more than just housing for those who were homeless, said Spence-Jones. This is more appropriately called supportive housing and thats what many of our lower-income citizens need. We have so many boarded up buildings in Liberty City that have become places for drug use and drug sales. We put our heads together and said why not rehab some of these dangerous eyesores? We dont have to build brand new apartments. We have property like this that can be repaired in a much shorter amount of time. The City recently rehabbed another building in the community that is now serving as a foster care home for kids aging out of the system. Next on my list is a place for veterans. The point is that we can use foreclosed buildings and rehab them so that we can meet the needs of various groups of people. According to Vanessa Mills, executive director for Empower U, Inc., seeing the ribbon cut and knowing that the apartments now have tenants is especially meaningful for her. I remember when Petera and I first started talking about founding Empower U and how driven we were to do something about the lack of services for Blacks living with HIV/AIDS, she said. That was a real labor of live for us. This building was another labor of live and it hasnt been easy getting an elevator installed for the handicapped, putting in air conditioning and finding a way to secure the system after folks keep stealing it we refused to give up. That was Peteras way too. The mixed-use, low-income housing will include services that will aid its residents in living healthier, more productive lives. Thea Johnson, one of the new tenants, says because of Mills and others, she finally has a home she can call her own. Im a dual-diagnosed person and am a former addict that was homeless, she said. But I got help from so many people and learned how to become a stronger person. To have my own home has been my dream. Theres nothing you cant do when you trust in God. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com