Letters from the Issue of January 10, 2002

Green Thumbs Up: Urban gardening is great, but beware of dirty dirt

Miami Housing Officials: Comedy Central's Newest Stars
Check out their Cheech and Chong imitation -- killer! Kirk Nielsen's story about the City of Miami's housing loans and the deadbeats who received them ("My Dog Ate the Mortgage -- Really!" January 3) points to just one of the many reasons why Miami is the poorest big city in the United States and will probably remain so for some time. Cronyism and corruption have become part of the scenery here in (dare I say it?) the banana republic. The list of "deadbeats" reads like a who's who of Miami's politically connected. How many of us have the luxury of skipping our mortgage payments for twelve years without facing foreclosure and collection?

I have more questions for those who lent the money than for those who borrowed it. What were the values of the properties at the time of the loans? What assets other than these properties did the borrowers have? What was the income and the source of income of the borrowers at the time the loans were made? Why has it been twelve years since some of these loans defaulted, yet no significant collection action has yet been taken? Why are the interest rates so low for these loans that are in default? What were you smoking when you made these loans? Who was supervising these loans, Cheech and Chong?

Carlos Menem and Robert Vesco could probably learn a thing or two from this bunch.

Emiliano Antunez
Miami

Homes Sweet HOME
Public money should go to the public, not developers: No surprises that, in the past, the City of Miami has made bad loans to help poor areas. But some of us in the business of trying to provide good, affordable housing wonder why no one has written about the demise of the best loan program Miami ever had. In fact it was the best in the entire nation. It allowed my company, Wind & Rain, and others to build brand-new three-bedroom, two-bath, detached single-family homes on scattered sites for sale to first-time low- to moderate-income families.

It was called HOME and provided "soft second" mortgages of up to $40,000 at zero percent interest, with ten percent of the principal forgiven per year so long as the homebuyer-family stayed in the home. Funding for the program came from the feds, so HOME didn't cost Miami taxpayers a dime. Instead vacant lots in distressed areas were put back on the tax rolls with proud new homeowners protecting their investments. (Yes, they all made down payments and obligated themselves to pay the mortgages.)

We used this program extensively, as did Habitat for Humanity. No defaults resulted -- all the families are still in the homes they were able to buy under the program. Unfortunately the city decided to open the HOME program so it could also be used for "home repairs." Now there is a moratorium on HOME as the feds investigate how up to $40,000 was used to do minor repairs (as opposed to building entire new houses).

HOME needs to be brought back as a program for new construction only. There's a lot less chance for fraud if each builder must actually produce an entire house and when the subsidy goes to the new homebuyer after the house is built instead of directly to the developer before the first block is laid.

Andy Parrish
Wind & Rain
Coconut Grove

Green Thumbs Up
Urban gardening is great, but beware of dirty dirt: In response to Susan Eastman's article "Dred, You Got Okra?" (December 27), I have started several community gardens over the years, and I wish to commend Ignatius Murray for his ability to have a vision and follow through. His bountiful results are forming the foundation for the future "greening" of Overtown.

There is one caveat I wish to offer him and Marvin Dunn, however, something that community-garden activists sometimes sadly overlook in their enthusiasm to get things growing. Often, when vacant lots are reclaimed, environmental and soil surveys aren't conducted to check for pollutants in the soil. There may be engine oil, gasoline, paint, or household and industrial chemicals. Too often, driving around Miami, I see illegal dumping of tires and trash on vacant lots, and I recognize the pollutants they release into the soil and how those pollutants are taken up by the roots of the plants grown there.

A few years back I was involved in an ill-fated community garden in Overtown with professor Dunn, and my major concerns at that time were the folks on the committee who insisted on constructing raised beds. Pressure-treated lumber, which is needed to construct raised beds, contains many harmful chemicals. Ornamental plants are okay in those beds, or on those probably polluted lots, but tests should be conducted before veggies and fruits are grown on them. It would be a shame to see such a worthwhile enterprise, such a focal point of the community, be shut down as a result of polluted produce.

Anya McCoy
Miami Shores

Our Father Who Art in Flagrante Delicto
Jeffrey Sanker opens mouth, inserts foot: What an incredibly stupid thing to say! Events planner Jeffrey Sanker was quoted by Kevin McLaughlin ("Everyone but God,"December 27) as saying,"Everyone waits for god to come down and blow them." That is one of the most outrageous comments I have heard in a very long time.

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