By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
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By Michael E. Miller
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OTAC president Yvonne Green dismisses Octavia with one word: "Negative!" Green is a public-housing resident herself from the Wynwood area of Miami and has supported Miami-Dade HOPE VI from the start. She believes a small band of "outside agitators" and "naysayers" determined to stop HOPE VI at any cost got to Octavia and polluted her thinking. As a result, residents of Scott and Carver are being fed "fear instead of information." After an article published in the Miami Times in August 2000 quoted two Scott residents skeptical about the benefits of HOPE VI, Green wrote a letter to MDHA director Rene Rodriguez, concerned that the agency's message wasn't getting out:
"I hope you understand the seriousness of what the opposition is doing," Green wrote. "People are being misled. You've got serious fear among the people, especially the elderly. They are so afraid, so afraid. And then when they come to a meeting, they already have a wall built up." Almost a year later, she's still fighting the same battle. If residents understood HOPE VI, Green believes, they would be as passionate about its possibilities as she is. Green, a tall woman with a girlish, almost apologetic demeanor at odds with her size, gets really focused when she talks about this: "We should work with Rene Rodriguez to give the people knowledge of how this can help them make their lives better." HOPE VI and MDHA offer help to repair credit as a first step toward home ownership, help in returning to school, day-care services, health care.... Also, the housing agency has lined up businesses who've promised jobs for residents, technical-training programs, and work on the HOPE VI project itself as subcontractors.
As a conservative thinker, and one who identifies with the powers that be (as most of the housing agency/HUD/pro-HOPE VI folks do), the message of "opportunity" is the one Green thinks OTAC and Octavia should concentrate on. "As president of the resident council," Green charges, "[she's] got to look somewhere in there and see the positive and pull it out." Instead, Green says, "all Octavia has focused on since she was elected president is all the things that might go wrong." Green is worried that some residents will get caught up in the anti-HOPE VI rhetoric and miss taking advantage of the bounty. "If you don't plan what you want to do, they are going to plan it for you. I'm afraid someone is going to get lost in the shuffle."
And Green doesn't buy Octavia's altruistic "I'm not in this for me" routine. "Ms. Anderson has a hidden agenda," she says, ominously. Asked what it is, Green says she isn't sure. Told of Octavia's junior college attendance, Green concedes, "I'd give her an A plus for that, but she's got like what -- six kids? And she isn't a very good housekeeper.... "
Green also feels that Octavia has given too much power to Billy Hardemon: "I understand she opens the meetings and then turns it over to him."
As president of OTAC, Green sees MDHA and public-housing residents from a unique position. She's both on the inside and the outside. Her organization has a representative on the board of MDHA. OTAC must sign off on policy changes in public housing and on funding decisions. Green sees OTAC's role as that of an enforcer and facilitator and educator of MDHA rules. Last year, when Liberty Square president Barbara Pierre opposed a HOPE VI proposal for that housing project, Green tried and failed to get rid of her, too, much as she is with Octavia. Naturally, in exchange for her support of MDHA, Green expects patronage. OTAC is in line to bid on the job of moving residents out of the complex into their new homes. A daughter of Lottie Hines, who is Octavia's counterpart at Carver Homes, is bidding on the same contract. The three Scott board members who voted Octavia out of office are now employed by a county agency that is going door-to-door, beating the drum for HOPE VI.
"I like her. I still do," Green says of Octavia, rather unconvincingly. "But ... "
Octavia identifies with those residents who don't earn enough money to qualify for a homeownership program or can't repair their credit no matter how much advice they get. She's with those who don't earn enough to qualify for HOPE VI, even if they have a job. She's for the people who won't be able to return to the redeveloped Scott-Carver project because of criminal convictions, late rental payments, poor housekeeping, or some other official consideration. And then there are those families who relocate to other public housing, or use Section 8 rental vouchers to move into an apartment or home on the private market. What if they end up living in Naranja or Fort Lauderdale or Carol City? Will they get help with daycare, returning to school, finding jobs? In theory the answer is yes, but Octavia wants the housing agency to put it in writing before residents begin moving. "The more questions I ask, the less answers I get," she says exasperatedly.
At its heart, Octavia's fight is about wresting control of the discussion of HOPE VI away from its purveyors. Instead of the housing agency explaining to residents the choices and opportunities of HOPE VI, Octavia wants residents to tell the housing agency what they want and need. The problem is, HUD has already approved MDHA's plan, and alterations now could effect funding. But as relocation looms, Octavia has been joined by more and more activists from outside the complex: Max Rameau and Leroy Jones, both from the nonprofit Neighbors and Neighbors; Tony Romano from the Miami Workers' Center; and Earnestine Worthy, a long-time activist who is on the board of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation that Billy Hardemon chairs. Their aim is to stop HOPE VI cold. They use tactics torn from the pages of Sixties protest manuals: ambush meetings, dignitary protests, stacked meetings. With their support, Octavia has become more radically committed to halting the project until key elements change.