Where Did All the People Go?

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

As for city officials, Hibbert can only guess: "Maybe they were having their own personal problems or something. Maybe they should have came and interviewed a couple of people and found out what's going on in their life, what's happening with their kids. Ask how they can help them to make sure that their kids be successful and do right in life, do better in life."

Shrimp, Wings & Things and the area's other small retailers will have to scrimp for at least two more years while an ambitious new housing project evolves. In July 2001 the city commission created the Model City Community Revitalization Trust to usher in the construction of 400 to 500 single-family homes. City Manager Carlos Gimenez selected an assortment of public servants and private businesspeople to serve on the executive board. (They include Linda Haskins, the mayor's chief financial advisor; Shalley Jones, director of Fannie Mae's South Florida Partnership Office; Lucia Dougherty, a land-use lawyer whose clients include a variety of developers; Hector Brito, a general contractor and vice chairman of the Miami-Dade Housing Authority; and Patrick Range, Sr., co-owner of Range Funeral Homes.)

For the position of trust president the city manager picked Gwendolyn Warren, formerly director of the Community Development Department. Now instead of trying to collect money from deadbeats, she can concentrate on spending it. Plans call for the trust to spend a total $31 million to acquire 403 properties for the Model City home-ownership project. So far the trust has spent about eight million dollars in federal housing money to acquire 75 parcels in the area.

How many years will pass before displaced Section 8 tenants might return and move into a new, affordable house? "I'm banking on three," Warren predicts. "The first houses will be coming out of the ground in two years. The whole project will take five to ten years." Besides houses and revitalized commercial strips, she envisions the construction of a three-million-dollar "community technology center" where Model City kids and adults will learn to use computers, thus helping to bridge the digital divide.

Unaware of how long the project is likely to take, Loraine Hibbert modestly offers two ideas the city could use to help out in the meantime. One, buy her some advertising. Two, pay for renovations so she can be ready for the promised residential rebirth. "The city could help us remodel our buildings so they will be up to date," she reasons, "so when they do bring some people they will feel comfortable coming in and out of our businesses." She's afraid of receiving a loan, though, fearing it could be the first step toward losing her business. "If you can't pay it back it's a problem for your property," she says. "I'm just barely managing, but I would rather stay there than go into debt." Her main suggestion, however, is this: "Hurry up and build those houses!"

Before that happens, though, many other potential customers will be displaced as the Model City Revitalization Trust acquires and demolishes more apartment buildings.

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