Mr. Bailey's Neighborhood

Miami's northeast side is in trouble, and city housing boss Herbert Bailey has eagerly pitched in to help. Personally. On his own time. With his own money. An investigation is underway.

In October 1991, the Miami City Commission handed out a half-million dollars and started a small war. The fight erupted over how to improve a few blocks of deteriorated property on the northeast side. As happens with many of the city's best intentions, political combat quickly replaced constructive action. Today the area in question -- parts of NE 62nd and 63rd streets just west of Biscayne Boulevard -- is still in drug-ridden decay, and little of the city's $500,000 has been spent. The two-year-old battle, however, has only increased in intensity. Drawing most of the fire: a top city official and a member of a citizens advisory board known as the Northeast Task Force, both of whom are facing pointed accusations about their personal interests in the neighborhood. Complaints about their conduct and the initiation of an in-house task force probe have prompted City Manager Cesar Odio to order an investigation by the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs office, as well as an independent audit of the city's entire housing department.

Assistant City Manager Herbert J. Bailey, an expert in urban renewal and head of the city's Department of Housing and Development, this past June purchased an abandoned fourplex on NE 62nd Street. Bailey's partner in the purchase was Northeast Task Force member Judy Clark, a realtor who was the leading advocate of a neighborhood redevelopment plan using the city's $500,000. After buying the property, Bailey and Clark replaced its broken windows, cleared away weeds and junk, repaired the apartments' bathroom plumbing, and painted the two buildings. Then they rented the apartments. All of which should have pleased task force members, or anyone interested in improving the area. It didn't.

The property Bailey and Clark bought (and another across the street they considered buying but which was quickly picked up by a private investor) borders the blocks targeted for redevelopment by the city when it allocated the $500,000 back in 1991. Moreover, Bailey's housing department is responsible for administering these funds. If the redevelopment project were to succeed and property values rise as a result, he and Clark could make a good profit when they sell the fourplex, as they are encouraged to do by the terms of their federally insured mortgage and rehabilitation loan. On the other hand, the neighborhood isn't guaranteed to turn around, and they may not make back their investment.

But Bailey's financial interest in a property so close to planned redevelopment that he would oversee has raised serious questions about conflict of interest, which he adamantly denies. And some puzzling aspects of the sale, including an unregistered company listed on the deed as co-owner with Bailey, remain unexplained.

As for Clark, Northeast Task Force officers are angry that she never disclosed her financial interest in the area even as she pushed for a city-financed redevelopment project. They say she secretly pursued the project despite the fact that most task force members were opposed to it. Task force officials are so upset, in fact, that at a special meeting on November 30 they authorized attorney and task force member Scott Warfman to undertake an investigation to determine if any improper and/or illegal conduct has occurred. Clark, through her attorney, has threatened a slander suit against the task force "if this witch-hunt continues." Clark contends the accusations against her are politically motivated and that she has no conflict of interest.

Northeast Miami ranges roughly from NE Seventeenth Street on the south to NE 87th Street on the north, and from Biscayne Bay on the east to NE Second Avenue on the west. Once a scenic residential area graced with elegant homes, it suffered a steep decline in the Sixties and Seventies, much like near-downtown urban neighborhoods all over the nation. But a slow renaissance took root in the Eighties. Professionals began to refurbish and move into bayfront homes on quiet, palm-lined streets. Property values started to rise. The east side -- at least that part of it east of Biscayne Boulevard above 50th Street -- was enjoying a new cachet.

But the west side of the boulevard, home to entrenched drug and prostitution trades, hasn't taken nearly as well to gentrification. In 1989 the Miami City Commission created the Northeast Task Force, composed of elected representatives of about a dozen homeowner groups and the Greater Biscayne Chamber of Commerce. The task force, whose members were approved by the commission, was charged with developing strategies to restore and revitalize the area and to make recommendations to the commission. Committees formed to address an array of concerns: economic development, crime, funding, beautification.

In her position as chairwoman of the economic development committee, Judy Clark was instrumental in persuading the city commission to reallocate more than $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds originally intended for Little Havana. According to the commission's resolution, the half-million was to be spent for "undertaking land acquisition activities in the area bounded by Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast Eighth Avenue between Northeast 62nd and 63rd streets, for the development of a mixed-use residential housing project." City plans called for the purchase of most of the south side of NE 63rd Street from Biscayne to NE Fifth Avenue, and parts of NE 62nd Street, including the infamous green-and-pink Sinbad Motel, whose name defines it these days. The project would include low- and moderate-income housing and some shops on the boulevard. It would need additional money from private or public sources to become a reality, but getting the land was the first step.

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