Building Block

Neil Shiver says the St. Hugh Oaks housing projects is a high-priced broken promise to Black Grove residents, and he's filed suit to prove it

"Considering the quality of the project, the houses are selling below the cost of something similar on the open market," explains Duran, pointing out that when the actual cost of the homes is taken into account, the $115,000 sale price amounts to a $40,000 city subsidy on each unit. "This project was never intended to be a low-income project."

The city is under no obligation to adhere to the housing goals set forth in the Comprehensive Plan, according to city planner Clark Turner, who also teaches urban studies at Florida International University. Though the city is bound to comply with some elements of the plan, Turner explains, other elements, including housing, are considered optional. "There is nothing in the plan to bind the city to observe [an optional element]," Turner says, adding that the plan is scheduled to be overhauled next year.

Shiver says he hopes his case never gets as far as the courts. To that end, he has offered the city a settlement: Reduce the price to $80,000 per unit and guarantee eleven homes for blacks, with six of those reserved for buyers within the community. (Shiver contends that the bond-issue funds the city spent for the St. Hugh Oaks project were earmarked for housing that would be used by residents of the community in which it was built.)

There may be room for negotiation where Shiver would least expect it. Commissioner J.L. Plummer says that although the city attorney has ruled out setting a quota, lowering the selling price is another matter. "I would have to ask the city attorney if that is possible," Plummer says. "Then I would be willing to sit down and go into the matter further." The commissioner says he always has wanted the project to serve moderate-income buyers, but he was worried about the bottom line. "I felt the density as proposed was way out of line," Plummer explains. "What I was concerned about was that it did not show a break-even point as far the actual cost. To continue these kind of programs, you cannot have a deficit every time." (Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Pecko, who is handling the petition, did not return calls requesting comment about the case.)

A relatively green lawyer by his own admission, Shiver realizes he might be up against a heavy legal adversary. But he says that if the city persists in its claim that blacks have not been victims of discrimination in housing, he's ready: He is preparing a federal discrimination suit to show that the Black Grove is a segregated community. "I am suing on affordability now," says the attorney. "But I may use a discrimination suit later. It depends on how the city takes care of this suit. You can call it blackmail; I call it being a good lawyer.

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