Liberty Square public housing tenants want $74M change, fear displacement

A new Miami-Dade County project aims to 'revitalize' poverty-ridden neighborhood with a dark history of urban racial segregation

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter

MIAMI - Crime has come to define Liberty Square, a public housing project in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood also known as "the Pork & Beans" project or "Afghanistan."

East of Interstate-95 and bordering the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the 243-unit complex was built in the 1930s when residential racial segregation was the law. Now the bete noire of the Miami yuppie has 753 aging 1 to 5 bedroom units.

The project was part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and was meant to help with overcrowding and menacing sanitary conditions in Miami's Overtown neighborhood -- then known as Colored Town or "N---- Town." 

"Liberty Square was much prettier then, and it was crime free. By the late 1950s and 1960s tougher people moved in and it began to go down," former maintenance supervisor Henry Clarke Jr. told historians.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's administration announced Friday that there will be a "revitalization" project and he wants to tell the community more about it Monday morning.

Rosetta Devarn said she has lived in the predominantly African American community for about two decades.

When Miami-Dade police officers were acquitted in the death of Arthur McDuffie, there were riots. During the rise of cocaine, easy-money and low economic prospects made the projects fertile ground for gang activity and the establishment of a fearful no-snitching culture.

In the last three decades, drive-by shootings and innocent victims caught in the crossfire haven't been a rare occurrence.  A father died June 24, 2014. A drive-by shooting Nov. 17 left one dead. Two died in a shooting Jan. 7.

"There has been so much killing around here," Devarn said. "I can't take it."

It's about time authorities did something about it, Devarn said.

The Department of Public Housing and Community Development project is a $74 million commitment -- $48 million will be used for the construction of a "New Liberty Square" and the other $26 million will be used to "revitalize"an area of Liberty City. The plan promises to create 2,290 jobs and $285 million in economic output, a press release from the Mayor's office of communication said Friday.

Miami-Dade County commissioners will have to approve the plan before a competitive bidding process to find a developer begins. Miami-Dade Public Housing Director Michael Liu met with residents to describe the "if you build it, they will come" vision.

"You can include more units that will allow for a mix of incomes, a mix of uses, retail office space," Liu said. "And again, the type of mixture of units and incomes that make for a more vibrant community."

Gimenez, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and other Miami-Dade County employees are set to meet at 10 a.m., Monday at  6304 NW 14 Ave., near the one-story buildings painted in peach and sky blue.

With the James E. Scott housing complex redevelopment nightmare, the public officials will likely have to appease fears that the five year project will not end up displacing residents in a city with one of the worst affordable housing markets in the country.

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