On July 23, 2004, Steve Shiver plunked down $1.5 million for 4.2 acres in a severely depressed neighborhood of Homestead. The city's former mayor and ex-county manager had become the proud owner of a laundromat, grocery store, office complex and 44 rundown cinder-block "shotgun" row houses for low-income tenants.
It was convenient timing on Shiver's part. Perhaps too convenient. A recent Miami-Dade County audit revealed that Shiver used the property to collect $710,000 in county funds meant to spur new development in parts of Homestead ravaged by Hurricane Andrew. According to former city officials, Shiver used his political influence over a majority of the seven-member city council to secure the sweetheart deal.
"Steve would always brag that he had his five votes on the council," says Lynda Bell, who served on the Homestead City Council from 2003 to 2009 - her last two years as mayor. Bell was one of two council members who voted against giving Shiver money. "It only benefited Shiver," she says. "It smelled."
Shiver, who now resides in North Carolina, did not respond to requests for comment via telephone message, email, and his Facebook page.
Shortly before Shiver bought the four acres, Bell recalls, she was invited out to lunch by Rick Stauts, who at the time was director of the Homestead community redevelopment agency. He took her to Nicamex in the southwest section of the city. "Stauts proposed this idea that Shiver and then-Mayor Roscoe Warren had come up with," Bell recalls. "Stauts told me that except for two of us, the council had no problem with this. He was right."
Stauts explained how Shiver would purchase the property and evict the tenants, Bell adds. The CRA would pay Shiver $400 for each vacant house until he could find a private developer to demolish the row houses and build a new affordable housing project.
"I didn't understand why the city had to subsidize Shiver's rent when he was responsible for evicting the tenants," she says. "It never made sense to me. It was a horrible idea, yet Steve's five council members voted for it."
Then city manager Curt Ivy says he was "iffy about it," but that Stauts told him it would be more expensive for the city to buy the land because Homestead would have to shoulder the cost of relocating the tenants.
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Two years later and after paying him $310,000 in rent, Shiver couldn't find a developer. Stauts and Ivy reversed course and decided it would be ideal for the CRA to buy property from the former city and county official. The city council - as the CRA board - voted 5-2 to buy the land from Shiver for $1.9 million (a $400,000 profit), as well as pay property taxes he owed the county.
Ivy defended the purchase. "We paid the appraised price," he insisted. "People want to make it out that we just handed over money to Steve Shiver."
Yet the county audit claims the appraisal showed that only one out of five comparable property sales was within the Homestead CRA's boundaries. "Based on that comparable sale, it appears the 4.2 acres should have been assessed at a value much lower than $1.9 million," the audit states. Adds Bell: "We put close to $2 million in the pocket of one man."
In July 2008, the CRA demolished the row houses. The land remains vacant with no plans for development.