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.

A year later, in October 1992, the commission authorized the city manager to make offers on three lots in the targeted area. Two adjacent parcels on NE 63rd Street were bought at a total cost of almost $40,000. Meanwhile, the Northeast Task Force apparently was learning little about the progress of the project. "There was no documentation," says former task force chairwoman Ernestine Stevens. "We didn't know how much was spent, who spent it. We knew appraisals were done but we didn't know who did them. But what really concerned us was -- for a lot of different reasons -- the community was not for this, yet it still was going forward."

Herbert Bailey, an eleven-year veteran of city government, has a different assessment of the project. In an interview this past week, he initially claimed none of the $500,000 had been spent. But after the two 63rd Street purchases were brought to his attention, he noted that the city is constantly buying pieces of land to rehabilitate. The development project promoted by Clark was a good idea, Bailey asserted, but the city was finding the current property owners reluctant to sell, and land prices were higher than expected. "The whole thing just fell apart because of a lack of money," he said.

Other city and county officials, however, weren't so discouraged. This past May, according to several task force members, a number of city and county representatives (not including Bailey) made a formal presentation about the project during a task force meeting. The next month task force members, unhappy over a lack of details and fearful the proposed housing and shops would deteriorate instead of rejuvenate, voted overwhelmingly against proceeding with the project. (The nonbinding vote was actually more like a poll.) Apparently they were unaware that some land already had been acquired.

That was also the month in which Bailey and Clark purchased their property on 62nd Street, although the change of ownership would not show up in public records for at least another four months. Clark continued to advocate the redevelopment project; her adversaries on the task force continued to oppose it. After nearly two years, almost nothing had been done with the city's $500,000, and last month Miami's director of community development, Frank Casta*eda, informed task force chairman Patrick Prudhomme the group was perilously close to forfeiting it.

By that time the Bailey-Clark purchase was common knowledge, although Clark insisted at task force meetings that it was nobody's business. Letters from task force members then began arriving at city hall accusing both Clark and Bailey of a conflict of interest and complaining that Clark and her committee kept from the task force almost all information about the status of the mythical half-million-dollar community improvement plan. "I consider it highly inappropriate that a housing director who is trying to put a project in a neighborhood buys property right on top of the project," Prudhomme snaps. "And it really ticks me off that when all the homeowners associations say 'We don't want it,' Judy Clark is somehow allowed to continue to pursue it. They were getting real estate appraisals when they didn't even know if the neighborhoods wanted these things."

Clark defends her actions as attempts to take action to address the area's problems. "My hope is to move the place from hourly and nightly rentals to owner-occupancy," she says. "To me that stabilizes the neighborhood."

Bailey says he bought the rundown, trouble-plagued fourplex as a favor to Clark, who lives and owns property in the northeast and who had been trying to find a partner to purchase the property on 62nd Street because it was a menace. "It was money out of my pocket that I worked for," Bailey insists. "I have nothing to hide. By law there is no conflict of interest. I have done nothing wrong at all; otherwise I wouldn't put my name on it."

Yet Bailey and Clark, while acknowledging they own the property, are vague in answering questions about their business partnership and the "SF Properties" that is listed as co-owner with Bailey. SF Properties is not registered with the Office of the Florida Secretary of State, nor does it have a Dade County occupational license, required for companies doing business in the county. Its address, as listed in county records, is that of Clark's home on North Bayshore Drive, and its phone number rings at Bailey's city office.

Financial Research Services, the firm that allowed Bailey and Clark to assume the property's mortgage and to obtain rehabilitation financing, believes SF Properties to be a nonprofit corporation that rents residences to low-income individuals. But Bailey and Clark describe the company as an investment group.

Bailey, as a department head, is required to file disclosure forms each year revealing any property holdings or outside sources of income. The most recent statement of real property, filed by Bailey this past November 18, lists only his home on Brickell Avenue. No mention is made of anything on NE 62nd Street. (Bailey did not return numerous phone calls seeking an explanation.) Bailey's most recent statement of outside income was filed in June of this year and includes nothing related to real estate in Dade County.

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