The Apartment Building from Hell

Pay a visit to Overtown's New Jack complex, where drug dealers rule, kids play in sewage, and multimillionaire owner Garth Reeves makes excuses

But Latosha is not a woman who is fazed by much. At age 27 she's seen her brother murdered on the sidewalk a block away, and she's been arrested a dozen times for theft, stalking, and assault (no drug offenses, though, which would disqualify her from Section 8). She's on probation now, taking anger-management classes and caring for her four young children. The two eldest are standout students, remarkable considering their daily distractions.

For months before the family moved out (to an apartment north of Overtown), their toilet didn't function. Latosha had to pour water into the bowl to flush it. The stove worked, but the oven didn't. The worst thing was the children's bedroom. All four slept on a bunk bed, two to a mattress, just inside a window with no glass. At one corner of the window drug dealers had ripped a hole in the screen. "They would sit there on the steps," Latosha explains, pointing to the stairwell obscuring the view from the window. "They made it so when the police came, they could throw the drugs in here. So [the police] think I'm dealing." She smiles wanly, revealing about a dozen gold teeth.

Latosha is built like a bulwark and wears a Winnie the Pooh T-shirt. Still stuck on the bedroom walls are footlong, brightly colored crayon stickers, remnants of her decorating efforts. "They had a shootout awhile back," Latosha remembers. "I had to let the kids sleep inside my bed with me. I wouldn't let them in that room when they were serving out there. They had customers lined up all the time -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was like they was giving away free food."

Regina didn't want her face photographed because neighborhood drug dealers were angry at her
Regina didn't want her face photographed because neighborhood drug dealers were angry at her
Regina didn't want her face photographed because neighborhood drug dealers were angry at her
Regina didn't want her face photographed because neighborhood drug dealers were angry at her

Early this past June, about a month after the NAB ordered the closure of Crispus Attucks, the Miami-Dade Housing Agency finally canceled Garth Reeves's Section 8 contract "for noncompliance with conditions," according to Dale Poster-Ellis. "Plans were presented to us [by Reeves's management company] showing all the improvements to be made. We kept going out to the property and the improvements were never made." (Reeves doesn't have any other housing contracts with the agency, but if he did the cancellation wouldn't have affected the others; nor does it affect the tenants' eligibility for Section 8, which they carried with them to their new apartments.)

The afternoon goes to dusk. Alexis and Patrick, her man, rise from the balcony, where they've been sitting all afternoon sharing a few beers. They stretch and start down the steps. Alexis teasingly grabs a partially full half-liter bottle of Heineken from Patrick, who is not amused. He doesn't hide his recent backslide into drinking after years of sobriety. Alexis and Regina blame the environment -- New Jack, where Patrick has been staying the past few months -- for his relapse. "I can't blame it on no one but myself," he counters. "But in this place you get exposed to everything you don't want." Alexis tips the frosty green bottle to her lips, and drops of moisture sprinkle the top of her flowered sundress.

Regina, wearing a desert-hue African-print dress, is about to start up the steps to her apartment when she comes face to face with Kalim, Tanya's eleven-year-old. "I saw you over there with the older boys," she scolds him gently. "You wanna die young? You don't need that. Why you wanna be running around with those boys?"

Kalim doesn't answer. Six months ago he toted a plastic gun into a convenience store and jammed it to the head of the clerk. He was arrested, and his mother had to take him to juvenile court. Kalim never talks about the incident, although Tanya, Regina, and the other mothers don't need an explanation.

Kalim is skinny and tall for his age, with large almond-shaped eyes ringed in thick lashes. When he flashes a rare smile, it is dazzling. He's going to be moving north to 52nd Street, and maybe he will never again see the young dope- and gun-dealers across the street. Maybe something will draw him out of the cycle in which his mother and her mother grew up, never learning to read and insulated within a self-sustaining world of lawlessness and poverty. "I've seen this so many times," Regina observes, leaning her weight on her right hip, fanning her face with her hand. "You see the whole personality of the young boy and you know where he heading. It takes guts to go in and do what Kalim did. You know one like that is gonna die. Well, now that his mother's taking him out of New Jack he's got a 50-50 chance."

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