A Few Good Ideas

Here's what we'd do if I were in charge

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff
President, Miami chapter
American Civil Liberties Union
Affordable housing. I'm looking at the city budget and out of 134,198 homes, 87,362 are occupied by renters. When you have that many renters in a city where the median household income is $23,483, you're talking about a lot of people living at the edge of poverty. And housing is the largest item they're spending money on. It's pretty obvious that the solution to poverty in Miami is affordable housing. I would start by getting involved in the National Housing Trust Fund. This is an ongoing effort among cities across the country that are seeking to establish a permanent dedicated source of funds for housing. When you create that pot of money for affordable housing, you not only gain stability in housing but you're creating jobs to build the housing. I did some research and I was shocked the City of Miami was not in on this. But you really need a combination of a housing trust fund and inclusionary zoning laws in different parts of the city so affordable housing is not concentrated in one area. I'd buy land in the Roads, in Brickell, the Biscayne corridor and use the zoning laws to make sure you have cross-sectional housing in those areas. I'd also have an income supplement for low-income workers -- the people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for aid because they're working but are still poor. Of course something needs to be done about adequate wages. I'd encourage employers like the school district, Jackson Memorial, BellSouth to create living-wage provisions.

Marvin Dunn
Chairman, Department of Psychology
Florida International University
Government has taken the wrong approach to deal with poverty, especially in the African-American community. The assumption has been that supporting small businesses in the black community will raise employment. But more jobs in small businesses will not work. The reason is that you cannot create a critical mass of jobs in small businesses. If 100 new small businesses opened in Liberty City and Overtown tomorrow, it would not scratch the problem. It won't touch the thousands of kids pouring out of high schools without skills. Part of the problem has been the tendency to eliminate low-level jobs and use automation. But having people replaced by machines just because we can do it will ultimately destroy us. I've been arguing for a reversal of this trend, beginning with the public sector. We should re-establish jobs eliminated by technology, specifically low-skill jobs. For instance, in sanitation: Instead of getting more trucks that replace workers, bring more people back, bring back more drivers. Initially it's going to cost more to use people instead of machines, but as the benefits of having more people employed occur, the costs will even out. Otherwise the number of marginalized people in our society will grow exponentially. My second idea, and we're doing this through FIU, is that we planted nine community gardens in Allapattah, and hired hard-to-employ people, people with drug problems and criminal records, to keep these properties clean. We should be looking at ways to revitalize the inner city using people from neighborhoods with low skills, at jobs they can walk to, and pay them a living wage. Provide a simple job that people can do. One has to be committed to working with a difficult population.

Hodding Carter
President and CEO
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
I come from Mississippi, a place that relied on low-cost labor for its industries, primarily agriculture. The net result was that we were never positioned to catch hold of any of the developments in the industrial economies. In Miami we are heavily invested in the tourist economy, and much of the labor here is low-skill and poorly educated. Very similar. If I were to pass a wand over the region and say this is one thing that would have the effect of dramatically improving conditions here, it would be that we spend the same amount of money on education in public schools as our leadership spends on its children in private schools. One thing I've observed, the leadership consistently proves by its actions that money does count when it comes to education.

Photos by Steve Satterwhite

The key to our coming out of this predicament is to provide the tools to our citizens to take part in the modern service and industrial sectors. The rest of it is impossible. You cannot build a functioning economy on the backs of uneducated people.

Athalie Range
Funeral home proprietor
Former Miami City Commissioner
I believe education would stand at the top of the list, but when you're talking about education, you're talking about a person's lifetime. We need to get people out of poverty at a faster pace than to wait for a generation to grow up and out of it. I think industry needs to be brought into areas where there is the most poverty. Manufacturing needs to be brought in so people can learn to become independent. The small stopgaps we have for loaning people money to start businesses? This has not worked over the years because usually those persons who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs seem to get just enough money to become failures. They ask for $100,000 and the county or city may come up with half that. Maybe that sounds good, but in the end, it doesn't work. No follow-through.

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