By Michael E. Miller
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About 100 residents of the James E. Scott Homes gathered last Monday in an auditorium near the Liberty City housing project to discuss how they might avoid eviction. Most lived with relatives who had been arrested for serious crimes, thus violating their lease agreements with Dade County's Department of Housing and Urban Development. The meeting, led by Orange Hayes, a regional manager for HUD, was predictably somber.
There was, however, one moment of levity, which came as Annie Love, long-time president of Scott's Tenant Council, prepared to adjourn the meeting. "Your tenant council is here to help," she told those assembled. "If you're having problems, then you need to come talk to us."
"And if your tenant council is not doing a good job," Hayes interjected, "then you need to elect a new president!"
The impromptu comment was met with uproarious laughter, whistles, and applause. A few stood to cheer. But Love, a family-service worker for the Metro-Dade Community Action Agency, looked unamused.
For the past five months she has spurned county housing officials, who have pressed her to hold tenant council elections at Scott, a crime-plagued project that comprises 750 units along NW 75th Street and 22nd Avenue. Those pushing for elections contend that Love is an entrenched autocrat who has accomplished little during her tenure. Her supporters insist she has done an admirable job in a volunteer position no one else wants. As tenant council president, Love is charged with overseeing monthly tenant meetings, bringing tenants' concerns to housing officials, and coordinating social programs for residents.
The dispute began at a monthly meeting of the Overall Tenant Advisory Council (OTAC), a nonprofit coalition that serves as the umbrella group for the county's 47 individual tenant councils and devises bylaws to govern them. At the February meeting Scott's tenant council presented its own bylaws, which called for elections every four years. These conflict with OTAC's rules, which limited terms to two years, and with federal HUD regulations, which require that elections be held no less than once every three years.
The group pledged to discuss the issue at their March meeting. But Love did not show up.
The rift widened after OTAC officials discovered Love's plan to hold an "installation," a formal ceremony in which newly elected officers are sworn in. The problem: No election had been held at Scott since February 1992. On March 16, OTAC president Helen Whack wrote Love a letter demanding that she proceed with elections as soon as possible. "If you continue violating U.S. HUD and OTAC regulations, we will ask Dade County HUD to put a freeze on Scott Homes fundings," Whack wrote. These funds amount to roughly $2250, earmarked for community activities.
OTAC met again in April. Again, Love did not attend. Though members of her tenant council agreed to abide by OTAC's demands for elections, Love was unswayed. Instead she requested a meeting with Metro Commission Chairman Art Teele, stating that she would only hold elections at his request. Earlier this month, she and OTAC representatives met with Jeannette Matta, Teele's protocol officer. Matta sent a report about the situation to Teele, who promptly forwarded the matter to the county attorney's office.
"The only thing we're asking Ms. Love to do is run again," says Magali Amador, executive director of OTAC. "This is a democracy, after all, not a dictatorship. If she has done such great things in the community, they will choose her again."
The sixtyish Love (she refuses to reveal her age) insists she has done great things in the community, including helping to establish a garden club, a subsidized lunch program, and tutoring sessions. But she won't discuss the election issue or why she has made a habit of skipping OTAC meetings. Nor does she seem to know just how long she has been president of Scott's tenant council. "Five or six years now," she estimates. "Annie Love ain't no fly-by person. People in this project know me and know I'm here to help."
Jacqui Colyer, Dade County HUD's resident service director, puts the length of Love's tenure at closer to twenty years. Colyer has urged Love to hold elections since April, when Colyer herself moved into Scott with the hope of better understanding the problems faced by public-housing tenants. The push for elections, she says, is part of a larger effort to bolster the project's sense of community. "We're in a situation where we're trying to get residents of Scott to empower themselves," the HUD employee explains. "Holding an election for tenant council may not seem like a big deal, but it's a way for residents to feel like they have some say over their lives." Colyer says she has ordered one of her employees to initiate the election process this Monday, August 1 -- with or without Love's cooperation.
While Colyer is reluctant to criticize Love's performance, others are not. "Annie Love hasn't done a thing for that project," says Marlene Matthews, a former OTAC president and veteran public housing activist. "She's a part of that way of thinking where she wants to be president just to say she's president."
"The only time I see Annie Love is at the meetings she has to be at," seconds a long-time Scott resident, one of several who spoke disparagingly of Love but insisted her name not be used. "I can't see where she helps us at all."
Others say such criticism is unfair. "Ms. Love's in a tough spot, with the tenants on one side and Dade County HUD on the other," says Ophelia Little, vice president of Scott's tenant council. "But she worked hard for the people here, without a lot of support from outside."
Should an election be held, Little won't run. "Too much fussing," she observes. But she is confident that Love will A and that she'll emerge victorious. "No one else wants that job," Little says, laughing. "Why would you? You don't get paid. All you get are complaints.