By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
The audit reported that of the 200 homes Hanna's organization planned to build, the nonprofit had completed just 50. Additionally the county's Audit and Management Services Department was not able to document what assistance the design center provided to other nonprofits because the records provided by Hanna's CDC were incomplete. Notes made by auditors and reviewed by New Times mention that numerous CDCs complained about the services they received from the West Perrine center. The preliminary audit also points out that three retail and office complexes Hanna's CDC built in 1997 and 1998 are virtually vacant. The doughnut factory, the landscaping business, and the food- distribution center do not exist.
The Naranja-Princeton CDC used the design center when the organization first began developing its affordable-housing program a couple of years ago, says N-P CDC executive director Charles McKinnon. The center provided a checklist of development stages and some information on funding sources, he says. McKinnon's organization did not use the Center's architectural plans because they seemed "cookie cutter," and it has not returned for other help. The director of a CDC in Model City contacted by New Times says she did not realize the design center was up and running. Another director in Little Havana said she thought the center was only available for CDCs in South Miami-Dade County.
Hanna counters that it isn't his job to bring CDCs to the design center. If the county wants more organizations to use the facility, it should require that. "What do I have to do -- go to north county and say, “Y'all come'?" he asks. "The funding source gives us money to operate. It does not give us any guarantee to make sure people come. That is their responsibility."
Although the office and commercial centers have few tenants, building a business district from nothing takes time, suggests county Commissioner Dennis Moss, whose district includes West Perrine. The commercial and office space provides an infrastructure. "Yes, you can criticize them for not having all the office space leased out, but this is not CocoWalk. It is going to take awhile as the community continues to turn around; it is going to take awhile to see that kind of interest. It is not fully leased, granted. But it replaced a rundown slum and overgrown lots that basically were a deterrent to development and a detraction to the community. The [CDC] has created at least the opportunity."
If Hanna's organization seems to be heavy on projects and short on results, McKinnon tenders the problem may lie in the way the funding system is set up. If a CDC is realistic and tells the county it plans to build ten houses in two years, no one is impressed, he explains. The 200 homes West Perrine CDC proposed just sounds better, he says. "If you don't have these grandiose plans or a high rate of housing, nobody is going to fund you," McKinnon submits. "Whatever you do, you have to do something glamorous and get some results. It is either that or watch the organization collapse."
Hanna questions why his nonprofit suddenly is the object of so much scrutiny. The West Perrine CDC has been monitored annually by staff from the county Office of Community and Economic Development and sends an audit to the county each year. Hanna asserts he never heard any complaints about the progress of projects. "It is virtually incomprehensible to me for a county department to fund me if I wasn't doing what I said I was going to do," he insists.
There is plenty of blame to go around if funding and monitoring aren't working the way they should, Hanna believes. He says county auditors should function as a marriage counselor, forcing both the county and the CDCs to take responsibility. "I think there needs to be some team-building between Miami-Dade County and the CDCs," he suggests. "Y'all are great at talking about a marriage, but it seems like every time we meet we are going to divorce court."
Meanwhile grocer Nathaniel Green watches the fallout from the audit warily. Nat's Grocery is on Homestead Avenue across from the CDC's mostly vacant retail center. Anything that threatens the West Perrine CDC threatens all of West Perrine, he says. "If he doesn't continue to develop, then everything here will come to a standstill," Green predicts. Nat's Grocery lost its customer base after Hurricane Andrew, when the dense cluster of homes and duplexes that populated Homestead Avenue was destroyed. Green can't survive without some type of revitalization. "I need [the CDC's projects] to succeed to bring in new customers," he says.
Still the small-business owner doesn't want to see the county throwing good money after bad. Miami-Dade needs to be vigilant in watching where public money goes, he says. Green does question why the county is only now scrutinizing how grant money is spent. "That should be standard procedure," he complains. "We know what we see, but we don't know how the money is being spent. We are relying on the county to make sure it is spent properly."