Our Lady of the Projects

Octavia Anderson and the last days of the James E. Scott Homes

Please look to the left of this text. Thank you. You are very good at following directions. That woman with the dead-ahead gaze, the determined jaw, and the mahogany skin is Octavia Anderson. She is 33 years old. She is the mother of six children. She lives in the James E. Scott Homes public-housing project in Liberty City. She is the president of the James E. Scott Homes Resident Association. And some people would say she's a big pain in the ass.

Octavia, however, prefers the term "hardheaded."

It's after 8:00 on a warm night in late February. The community center is locked. The meeting is over. It's time everyone left. Time to get the children ready for bed. Time to get ready yourself. Yet five women remain plaited together around Octavia in the parking lot, their voices braiding into a knot of anger.

Octavia and five of her six children on the front porch of their Scott Homes apartment. Standing from left, Octavia and daughter Shawntai Marius, eighteen. Sitting from left, Alexander Hardemon, twelve; Phillecia Hardemon, ten; Ashley Hardemon, nine; and Phillip Hardemon, fifteen
Steve Satterwhite
Octavia and five of her six children on the front porch of their Scott Homes apartment. Standing from left, Octavia and daughter Shawntai Marius, eighteen. Sitting from left, Alexander Hardemon, twelve; Phillecia Hardemon, ten; Ashley Hardemon, nine; and Phillip Hardemon, fifteen

"We need to tell Mr. Rodriguez it not proper to send in a kangaroo court!" one of them declares. "The people are not going to stand for it. The people are not going to standfor it." "Sending the police in here. They got no respect," another grumbles.

The women are awash in the chaos of an angry meeting that ended twenty minutes ago. The assembly had been called by Yvonne Green, president of the Overall Tenant Advisory Council (OTAC). That group is the mother of all resident-advocacy organizations in Miami-Dade, made up of the elected members of 45 housing projects. The purpose of the meeting? To strip Octavia of her presidency. Flyers had been dropped around Scott Homes the day before. No subject given. Ever since Octavia wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development criticizing the Miami-Dade Housing Agency two weeks before, she sensed this coming. She thinks Green plans to kick her out of office because Green has a reputation for doing that with presidents who oppose OTAC's positions. Octavia believes Miami-Dade Housing Agency executive director Rene Rodriguez is behind it. She thinks he wants her silenced because she's screwing up American social engineering, which, in the end, is what the battle over the James E. Scott Homes is about ... but she isn't going to let them take her presidency without a fight.

Twenty minutes earlier Octavia blew into the center straight from her job at Miami-Dade Community College, still wearing the bright blue work tunic she uses at her copy-services position. She flung the door to the center open. Angry Scott residents jammed the room. Four police officers stood guard against the wall, summoned by Green in case things got out of hand. Green and three members of Octavia's resident council sat at a conference table. Before Octavia had a chance to get her bearings, Green called the board for a vote to oust her. "What are the charges?" Octavia shouted. "I demand to know what the charges are!"

Green called for the vote again. Octavia proclaimed that Green couldn't remove her unless the residents voted her out through a recall election. It didn't matter. Three of the five resident-council members who had been elected to the board with Octavia now cast their ballots to expel her. The audience yelled for an explanation. "This is about our president, not about OTAC," one resident hollered. "There won't be any questions," Green barked. "This meeting is over!"

And with that, she rose from her chair, all six feet and 200 pounds of her, and lumbered out the door. Then the police efficiently hustled everyone out of the building.

"Ms. Green just came in here and did her magic," complains one of the women around Octavia in the parking lot. Octavia didn't say anything. She just stood there, eyes blazing, coiled up like a gymnast. Finally, she broke her silence. She wanted the women to know her fight had just begun. She sounded deep and resonant, the low notes caught in her throat in a hard vibrato. "I don't care what I heard," she finally told them. "I'm still president."


You see the stuff people are made of when their world is overturned. And the world of the James E. Scott Homes at 73rd Street and NW 22nd Avenue is about to go kerflooey. There will be about $125 million spent to make this happen. After 47 years of housing Miami's poor, the federal government has given up on Scott, and its neighbor Carver Homes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) furnished Miami-Dade Housing Agency (its local liaison) with $35 million to do away with it. Both projects will be flattened, demolished, torn down, kaput. The 850 families who live there now will have to move out. Some residents are already packed. A mass exodus of more than 3000 African-Americans should begin in July and continue over the next four years, until all are gone. Some of the 850 families will move to other public-housing projects in Miami-Dade. But most will get rental vouchers and settle into private homes and apartments. And about 259 families -- screened, culled, and approved by the housing agency -- will move out temporarily and then return to Scott and Carver when they have been completely rebuilt. HUD money isn't paying for Miami-Dade Housing Agency (MDHA) to rebuild a public-housing complex. They want transmogrification.

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