Open House

Habitat for Humanity should be celebrating. Homes should be for sale to poor families in South Dade. New construction should be advancing. All stories should have happy endings.

Even before the Burdines homes were finished, the Homestead board of directors fired the general contractor and asked Robin Adair, who at the time was the board's vice president, to be the general contractor on Jordan Commons, which was ready to break ground at a former tomato field on SW 129th Avenue between 242nd and 246th streets. Adair would take the job only if given a salary, and so the board agreed to pay him $65,000 per year. (Dorothy Adair's salary as executive director was $50,000 per year.) "He was well aware of what was going on, very knowledgeable about everything to do with construction," board member John Hollon relates. "The board decided it was not really the best situation to have a man and his wife -- as his boss -- working for you, but they were such good people we decided let's try it and see what works out. Things went sailing along. We finished the Burdines project and started on Jordan Commons."

Dorothy Adair keeps a framed letter from former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros. Dated October 5, 1993, it attests to her aggressiveness as a fundraiser. In a handwritten note below the closing, Cisneros added that he had spoken personally with the Dade County manager to expedite the processing of a $3.6 million federal grant for land acquisition, roads, and sewer and water connections for Jordan Commons. The letter and the grant itself arose from a September 1993 hurricane fact-finding trip to South Florida by Cisneros and Pres. Bill Clinton, who delivered a speech at the Homestead Senior Center. Dorothy Adair, ever resourceful, had taken the opportunity to buttonhole the president and describe her plans for Jordan Commons, which then was only a dream. "Clinton said he liked the project and asked what he could do to help us," Adair recalls. "I said, 'We could use four million dollars.' He said, 'I think we can do that.'"

With provisional approval from the president himself, Adair leaped forward. She obtained the services of an expert grant-writer, and turned again to architect Armando Montero for design ideas.

Adair would also bring other experienced people into the planning process as formal and informal advisers. Among them: Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the University of Miami's School of Architecture and a nationally recognized advocate for the design of traditional communities that encourage walking and sociability. Plater-Zyberk agreed to consult with the less-experienced Adairs, who would seek her advice when engineering and construction problems arose. Dorothy Adair would also use the prestige of Plater-Zyberk's name as currency when she spoke to potential donors and other experts.

Jack Parker headed Jordan Commons's environmental management committee. A pioneering energy-conservation researcher and chairman of Florida International University's environmental science department, he had proposed energy-saving features for the Burdines houses.

Susan Barryman, a project manager from DERM, not only planned the solar-energy portion of the project but also arranged an expansive two-day planning charette in July 1993 at the Kendall campus of Miami-Dade Community College.

"We had individual groups talking about what we should do about hot-water heating while we had other people working on fundraising while we had designers working on the architectural lab," recalls Parker. "One of my students worked on the community garden."

Together with interested private citizens, the experts planned each aspect of Jordan Commons in its most minute detail. The working groups posed hypothetical problems and proposed solutions in the form of design elements; they even attempted to identify funding sources for their proposed features. "This wasn't just a show of empathy," Plater-Zyberk recalls. "This was people trying to work on things and forge new ground together. Everyone there was well-versed and realistic. We all knew what the parameters of Habitat are, what the energy-conservation dream was. Everyone had enough practical experience that it wasn't just blue sky."

By the time the charette concluded, the group had conceived plans for
*a "cool community" in which design features and landscaping would lower the temperature of the entire neighborhood, conserving energy and minimizing ozone destruction. Jordan Commons became a demonstration project as part of a national program endorsed by the Clinton Administration. Parker and others proposed roads made of light-color concrete and homes with bright white roofs that would reflect heat. The houses would also feature tinted windows shaded by wide, overhanging eaves. More than 2200 trees would be planted to reduce temperatures and cut air-conditioning costs.

*roads to be laid out in a pinwheel configuration so residents could walk to any section of the development in five minutes, thus limiting the need for cars. A pathway would lead to a stop on Metro-Dade's new busway, a special traffic lane for county buses along South Dixie Highway.

*sturdy houses to be framed in steel or built of cinder block and covered with stucco, more durable than wood. Roofs were designed to last 30 years. Windows on opposite sides of the houses would promote cross-ventilation. Manuals were written so residents would learn how to maintain their homes and how to conserve energy.

*an on-site waste-water recycling plant to dramatically reduce residents' sewer bills, while also decreasing the overall cost of the houses because Habitat would not have to pay sewage-impact fees. DERM officials also planned a gray-water recycling system for 40 of the homes in which water from sinks and washing machines would be filtered through special septic tanks before draining into the ground.

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