Born to Lose

Created after the 1980 riots, the Metro Miami Action Plan was supposed to level the playing field for blacks. What happened?

The auditors found that despite the passage of years, MMAP was relatively unknown in Miami-Dade County. MMAP had also made little progress toward its goal of independence in 2001.

But by far the most troubling finding of the audit was the poor financial accounting. MMAP, which has received about $13.6 million in county money since 1994, failed to measure how successful its efforts had been among many of the projects it had funded. For example, from 1994 to 1997 MMAP provided $414,000 in grants to community-based organizations to build low- and moderate-income family housing. MMAP's records reveal little about what that money actually provided. "Lack of documentary evidence has overshadowed MMAP's claimed accomplishments," the auditors reported. "The organization has not effectively followed through monitoring the performance of its grant recipients, making it uncertain if desired program results have been achieved, particularly job creation and business development."

A copy of the audit was delivered to each commissioner. Natacha Millan expressed special concern, according to Jackson. "The entirety of the [audit] was alarming," says Terry Murphy, the commissioner's chief of staff. Rumors that Millan would try to eliminate MMAP using the audit results as justification reached Representative Meek's office in Washington, D.C. Meek says she called Millan to discuss the matter. "Because of the special relationship with Natacha that I have I can do that," she maintains. (Murphy insists that the commissioner never intended to eliminate MMAP's budget.) The upshot of their conversation was that Millan would wait to see what MMAP would do to fix its problems.

In response to the audit, MMAP pledged to establish more thorough accounting practices. But it also lashed out at those whose support had faltered through the years. "Most of all the audit does not address that MMAP failures are failures of the community itself," DuBose wrote. "Leadership from all segments of the community abandoned MMAP and did not provide the resources for MMAP to reach its maximum benefit to the community."

In addition DuBose and MMAP board members argue that the audit failed to mention the verifiable successes the organization has had.

"One of the implications that people could get from reading the audit is that maybe there has been no impact from MMAP," says Bradford Brown, the director of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center and a MMAP board member who has volunteered with the organization since 1984. "A little legwork in the community would have gotten rid of that impression very quickly."

In particular Brown points to a community of about 8000 people in South Miami-Dade called West Perrine. In the past ten years, the West Perrine Community Development Corporation has managed to re-energize and begin to transform the area's urban blight. Some of it has to do with the director of the CDC, Ed Hanna.

A man seemingly in perpetual motion, Hanna is proud to show off the accomplishments of his group. In his burgundy Chevy Blazer, he gives a quick tour of West Perrine, which stretches south from SW 168th Street to SW 187th Street, and from South Dixie Highway and 107th Avenue to the east and west respectively. Hanna points out the rows of new single- and multifamily homes that have been erected since Hurricane Andrew. He drives by the stripmall, the office building, and the community center that have all been built in the past decade through public/private partnerships and grants from federal, state, and county institutions.

His pride and joy is the South Florida Design Center that the CDC built. The building consists mainly of a large room where drawings of the various projects underway line the walls. The CDC gives advice to other impoverished communities on how best to develop. But these groups need to come to Hanna with a plan and a willingness to work, he says.

According to MMAP West Perrine's accomplishments would not have been possible without the organization's help. A frequent complaint of MMAP staff is that the groups they help never give them credit. "MMAP was the first organization to come to the aid and provide resources so that [West Perrine] could begin to operate," board member Brown argues.

DuBose goes even further: "None of that would have been there without us," he asserts.

Hanna does not minimize the importance of the $647,000 that MMAP has given the CDC in the past six years. The community often leveraged MMAP funding into additional grants, he says. MMAP dollars are also sufficiently flexible so that they can be used to fill in short gaps, whereas other funding that is legally earmarked for specific areas cannot. As much as $300,000 of MMAP's grants to West Perrine were used to shore up the Community Home Buyers Program that allowed 392 homes to be sold to low-income families.

Still it is clear that any West Perrine achievement owes its existence to a lot more than MMAP. For example, the entire West Perrine housing project cost more than $15 million. More important, West Perrine has managed to create a unified sense of purpose. Hanna says he never builds a house before he has a buyer. The emphasis is on assessing the needs of the community and then starting on small projects to address them. The CDC then builds on each success. Its development work is planned and focused. "You have to have a handle on what is going on in your neighborhood," Hanna says.

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