Yuppies in the Hood

Welcome to St. Hugh Oaks, Miami's first subsidized housing project for the affluent

That was Lourdes Luaces's plan. A native of CamagYey, Cuba, who came to Miami with her parents 25 years ago, Luaces is a 30-year-old architect who drives a Saab and owns two other properties -- a condo and a duplex -- in other parts of the Grove. "I really saw it as an investment at first, but now I really love living here," chirps Luaces. "I love being here. I love my house. The oak trees are amazing. The vegetation is really nice." The lithe former high school volleyball player was so enthusiastic about St. Hugh Oaks that she wanted to buy two of the houses, but commissioners told her she couldn't. So she persuaded her two cousins to purchase in 1998. "If I would have had my real estate license when I bought this house, I would have tried to sell them to all my cousins," she joshes.

So far Valerie Davis-Bailey, a black insurance agent originally from Brooklyn, is the only owner trying to resell. Davis-Bailey, who drives a Jaguar and owns a condominium in Kendall, put her house on the market this past fall, about a year and a half after purchasing. The cost: $155,000. If she gets her asking price, that would leave her with a nice $40,000 nest egg. An Anglo owner, Salvatore Volpe, is the only absentee landlord in St. Hugh Oaks. He rents his property to a black man who lives there with one child.

Concerned about neighborhood cohesion, Wilets and Luis proposed a rule to require owners to reside there for a year before reselling or leasing. But city attorneys thought that would be illegal, Wilets says. "The last thing we wanted was speculators," he sighs. "We wanted a community."

The community is cohering despite occasional spats over parking spots or hedge types. "It's like a postmodern, integrated Main Street U.S.A. in the middle of the city," Wilets observes. "I'm just glad this neighborhood is integrated. It's sad that it's not integrated with the rest of the community.

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