Where Did All the People Go?

A once-thriving neighborhood is now a ghost town thanks to Miami's multimillion-dollar housing fiasco

As if the lost money were not bad enough, in most cases the required renovations never took place. For example José Dearing, president of Ideal Rehab, received $560,000 in 1987 to fix up two Model City buildings, one at 1240 NW 61st St., the other at 6000 NW Twelfth Ave. He did not finish the rehab or repay one penny of his loan. Just last year the city took title to one of the properties but is no longer trying to collect the loan. The other parcel, according to county property records, remains in the name Ideal Investments, a company Dearing set up in 1997.

In another case, Kenneth Williams registered a company named Dalea in August 1991. Six months later he received a $410,560 loan to rehabilitate an apartment complex at 1601 NW 62nd St. He dissolved the corporation in October 1992. The city never recovered its loan and a private bank foreclosed on the property.

Similarly in 1992 the Community Development Department provided a $200,000 loan to Jorge Basulto and Rommel Chiriboga to rehabilitate a building at the corner of NW Seventeenth Avenue and 58th Street. They did not complete the rehab, and as of September 1 they owed the city principal and interest totaling $260,823. The two partners also owe the city another $305,000 for a loan they received in 1991 to renovate an Overtown property. The city finally filed foreclosure lawsuits this year to capture the properties.

Steve Satterwhite
Loraine Hibbert (left) and mother Mary Nelson couldn't make it without a supplier's line of credit
Steve Satterwhite
Loraine Hibbert (left) and mother Mary Nelson couldn't make it without a supplier's line of credit

In addition to the millions of dollars wasted, Model City's failed housing projects have taken a toll on the area's residents. Population figures from the 2000 census reflect Model City's public-housing meltdown. Between 1990 and 2000 the neighborhood's black population dropped by 2566. Model City business owners, however, don't need statistics to demonstrate how they've been hurt by the colossal failure of Miami's housing programs.

A slow death could be in store for Shrimp, Wings & Things. Loraine Hibbert, age 42, runs the place along with her niece, cousin, mother, and sister. Her 25-year-old daughter was another partner until sickle cell anemia claimed her life earlier this year. The take-out is adjacent to a set of vacant lots once filled by the Miami Limited apartment complex, and a short walk west of where Miami Limited II once stood.

From 1984 until last year the restaurant was called Nelson's Soul Food and attracted enough customers to warrant limited table service. "When business was good we had people on AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] and working people coming in, going out, calling in, going out," she recollects. "Business was pretty fast and pretty good." But when the demolition decimated her clientele, Hibbert reduced the menu, scaling it back to take-out only, and renamed the eatery Shrimp, Wings & Things.

Last year business was still good enough to allow Hibbert to buy a burst of television advertising. She and her relatives splurged, spending $250 for a commercial that ran locally for three months on the Black Entertainment Television channel. That would be too dear for this year. "We still have a few people living in the area that come," Hibbert sighs. "And we get a few that come from out of the area." This summer's heavy rainfall disrupted Shrimp, Wings & Things's direct-marketing strategy, which involves placing flyers on cars at flea markets, Walgreens, nightclubs, and movie theaters. "You don't want to go puttin' out flyers on nobody's car because you spend the money to buy the flyers and then they get all wet," she explains.

Hibbert breaks even some weeks, goes into debt others. It helps that her family owns the building, which also houses the P&A corner convenience store one door north and Bernice's Flowers one door south. Hibbert and her relatives scrape by thanks to a line of credit from her suppliers at Family Meat a few blocks north. "We learn to pull together around here when we have to," she notes. Cash flow on a typical day goes something like this: "If I order a hundred dollars of groceries [for the restaurant] today, and if I make $200, I go pay my bill. That leaves me with a hundred. If I make, say, $150 in the morning and $150 in the evening, then I make enough to pay off whatever meats I been getting in the morning, or maybe just buy some more meats if I don't owe them."

If hard times pull people together in Model City, they also prompt them to stay out of each other's business. Hibbert tries not to pry even into the affairs of her brother and his wife, who run the P&A convenience store next door. "I don't know really what's going on over there," she admits. "They claim they don't make enough money. Like I said, we don't try to put too much pressure on each other." That also applies to her next-door tenant Bernice who, owing to the dearth of customers, occasionally falls behind on the $365 per month she pays for the flower shop space. Although Hibbert could certainly use more income, she hasn't had the heart to raise the rent for a long time. "We know that there's no money around here," she says.

When she wonders why things have gone so wrong in Model City, Hibbert concludes it was the result of a profound "lack of interest" on the part of apartment owners and the public officials responsible for monitoring them. "One of the things I know is that the landlords who owned the property didn't have enough concern for their tenants," she asserts. "Maybe they were short on money, maybe they were having financial problems. But the buildings fell to where the people wasn't living in good conditions. The area got corrupted to where a lot of people's kids got killed."

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