St. John CDC cuts ribbon on Overtown housing projects

caines | 5/9/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Can Overtown recapture its former days of glory? Last fall, new housing projects opened their doors to anxious residents in several Black communities including Opa-locka, with the help of a $20M federal grant from the Department of Housing & Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization Program [NSP], and Liberty City [Brownsville Transit Village, Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler Manor and M&M Maison II Apartments]. But other projects have also been in the works. And to celebrate what some say is the continued transformation of Overtown, elected officials and members of the community joined leaders from the St. John CDC [SJCDC] and St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church last week at a grand opening and ribbon cutting. The new St. John Village apartments, located at 1410 NW 1st Avenue and 1731/41 NW 1st Court, are SJCDCs second and third projects completed due to the NSP grant that they secured in a competitive bid in 2010. But they have four other affordable housing projects that are under construction and are scheduled for completion by the end of this summer. The cost to build these units is estimated at $8M with a total of 120 new units now or soon being available for occupancy. Adding the the 1410 and 1731 projects brings the total to approximately $12M. These two new projects will serve as the eastern gateway into Overtown and will significantly help us in converting images of blight and impoverishment that are more often associated with our community, said Ola Aluko, SJCDC president and CEO. We got to this point because we joined forces with the Miami-Dade NSP Consortium, had leaders with vision and worked together for the good of several Black communities in Miami-Dade County. Members of the Consortium include: SJCDC; New Urban Development; Opa-locka CDC; Little Haiti Housing; Carrfour Supportive Services, the City of North Miami; and Neighborhood Housing Services.

Nuts and bolts

In 2010, the Consortium was awarded an NSP grant in the amount of $898M. Under the terms of the grant, all of the money had to be used within a three-year period or be returned to the federal government. According to Aluko, the group actually spent 102 percent of the money the additional funds, referred to as program income, being generated primarily from tenant rents as properties became available to the public. Later this year, SJCDC will break ground on another multi-family affordable housing development St. John Overtown Plaza which will be the first of four major projects that well be spearheading within the next 14 months. Our goal is to take a leading role in housing development and to cater to the needs of our own community. We realize that places like Overtown were not included in the economic housing boom. But were determined to get our fair share. Dr. Nelson Adams, III, SJCDC chairman of the board, says the new units are another example of good work done by and for Gods people. Since the founding of SJCDC in 1985, we have seen some good times and some bad but today is an example of what can happen when you develop positive relationships and have committed workers, he said. This property was in foreclosure and was a drug haven. Now its been rehabbed and is adding to the beauty of this neighborhood. Theres no reason why we cant offer the same kinds of amenities that they do in Brickell and theres no reason why we cant look just as nice, Aluko added. City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said, Until Overtown gets right, no other parts of Miami will be able to get right. After decades of neglect, I believe that Overtown is finally getting its fair share, she said. But you cant do it without partnerships at the local, state and federal levels. Its exciting to see our people taking back their community. Overtown is slowly becoming destination transformation. This project was made possible because of stimulus money that President Obama made available to communities like ours, said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. I have participated in a number of ribbon cuttings recently and am excited every time. We are helping Blacks find homes, move towards employment and therefore helping them to reduce the federal deficit by paying their taxes. When we work together, we can do anything we set our minds to, said SJCDC board member Dr. Edwin Demeritte. These new homes are prime examples of responding to the needs of the community. But longtime Overtown resident, Agnes Rolle Morton, perhaps summarized the events of the day best. Its hard to say how happy and proud I am today but I remember Overtown when it was at its height and I believe that the future is bright. Overtown will rise again. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com