By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
If Hardemon thought he had a puppet in Octavia, she says he has since found out differently. Hoping to lure county Commissioner Dorrin Rolle to oppose HOPE VI, for example, Hardemon asked Octavia to gather up some Scott residents to praise the commissioner at a community meeting. No matter what the political strategy, Octavia wasn't comfortable with the idea. "[Rolle] wasn't really working with us," Octavia says now. "So I told Billy I couldn't do that."
Shortly after the election, Octavia began holding weekly meetings for residents to learn about the new program. She attended MDHA meetings, too, participating in various discussions. Octavia asked the housing agency to specify how the rent-to-own program in the redeveloped community would work, so that residents who left Scott during reconstruction would know how to qualify. She also wanted MDHA to consider adding more units to the redeveloped site so more people could return. And she was worried about whether residents who were leaving Scott and Carver permanently could be guaranteed services mandated for them by HUD and HOPE VI. But instead of addressing her concerns, Octavia says, after three meetings on relocation, MDHA announced that HUD had already approved their plan, and that it was "too late for revision." "It was like they tricked us," she says.
That's when she began to move closer to Hardemon.
Octavia joined a group of other Scott and Carver residents in June 2000 on a three-day bus trip to get a firsthand look at Durkeeville, a completed HOPE VI community in Jacksonville. The housing agency hoped the trip would allay residents' fears by showing that community values were being honored and maintained.
It seemed to work. In a glowing report in MDHA's July/August newsletter, several residents were quoted remarking on the positive things they'd seen in Durkeeville -- jobs, a community center, stores, a daycare, a sense of togetherness. Octavia's comments were a little more circumspect. "It was an excellent trip," she is quoted as saying. "I got a better feel of what HOPE VI is about, and I can relay the potential impact that it will have for the residents of Scott Homes." But in Jacksonville, Octavia spent two days in seminars, learning that HUD mandates resident participation in all phases of HOPE VI planning, and that Scott and Carver were being shortchanged in that regard.
She later learned that many Durkeeville residents didn't return after HOPE VI was rebuilt. When asked why, Octavia remembers someone from the Jacksonville housing authority answering that the former residents "didn't want to work."
A lifelong resident of public housing herself, Octavia didn't buy that. "It just seemed like everything was anti-resident, like we were just this bad bunch of people," she says.
As she studied Miami-Dade's HOPE VI plan for her community, Octavia became more convinced that the Hardemon brothers were right. HOPE VI was not the boon it seemed on the surface. For example, when Scott and Carver are redeveloped, the number of public-housing units will be reduced from 850 units to only 80. And while the housing agency touts HOPE VI as giving public-housing residents the opportunity to own homes, many Scott and Carver residents don't earn enough money to qualify. The median income of Scott residents is $7238, and a family will have to earn at least $12,126 to qualify for a one-bedroom house in the new development. HUD has recently approved a program where rental vouchers paid for by the federal government can be used toward mortgage payments on a home. The redeveloped Scott and Carver site will offer only 137 families that opportunity.
And a year after the Durkeeville trip, there still has been no information distributed about who will qualify for rent-to-own units, Octavia complains. The rest of the tenants will receive Section 8 rental vouchers. Section 8 offers choices unavailable in public housing, but it also has problems. A person with a Section 8 voucher can rent a home on the private market from any landlord willing to accept it, but each year, the landlord has the option not to renew. That kind of disruption isn't good for young families, Octavia offers. "A child deserves to know where he is going to lay his head at night," she says.
Alphonso Brewster, deputy director of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, thinks Octavia exaggerates problems with rental vouchers. "I don't think there is any statistical evidence [to back up her fears]," he says. "There are 16,000 families currently in the Section 8 program. They have been renewing their leases and some have been with landlords for years."
The housing agency says the whole idea behind HOPE VI is to give public-housing residents choices about where they live. Most welcome that opportunity, Brewster believes. Given the options of using a rental voucher, buying a home, living in public housing, or entering a rent-to-own agreement, 60 percent of Scott and Carver residents said they would prefer a rental voucher, according to a July 1999 survey the agency did before the grant was awarded. And only 32 percent said they wanted to live in the Scott Homes neighborhood. While Octavia says the survey was flawed because residents didn't understand their choices, Brewster counters that residents will be fully informed as each family gets individual counseling and develops a plan before leaving Scott and Carver.