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Dade County Wants to Relocate Downtown's Seniors for New Development

David Kennedy, a 74-year-old retired property manager who moved to Miami 38 years ago from Cuba, has lived in the same downtown public housing building for decades. So have many other residents of the Harry Cain Towers, at 490 NE Second Ave., and they weren't asking to leave.

But Miami-Dade County, desperate to raise public housing funds, has offered the seniors a proposition: If a majority agrees to leave, they'll be relocated to a new building in Allapattah. The downtown building will, in part, be turned into privately rented apartments. Kennedy, for one, isn't buying the county's promises.

"I'll believe it only when I see the paper," Kennedy told Riptide in Spanish, "the paper that says the same thing they're telling us."

Gregg Fortner, the executive director of the Miami-Dade County Public Housing Agency, met with building residents yesterday to answer questions about the proposal and pitch them on the plan.

The idea is that they'll get newer housing in Allapattah while the county will get a chance to make new revenue by renting some of the property in a part of town where property values are on the rise.

"We have $300 million worth of capital needs," Fortner said. "We have to figure out some kinds of creative ways to maximize assets and raise revenues."

The residents will get to decide whether to back the idea. Beginning early next week, the county will deliver ballots to each of Harry Cain's 150 households for a yes or no vote, with a decision deadline set for next Thursday.

But according to Kennedy, many residents -- despite Fortner's reassurances about the plan, which would still reserve a portion of the current building for public housing -- remain skeptical of the whole process, especially giving up the convenience of their current location. They also distrust a potential private building owner's motives.

If Harry Cain residents pass on the proposal, Miami-Dade will give up on relocating that particular building and attempt the move with another public housing building, Fortner said. And if Harry Cain residents vote to move, "the work's just begun."

"We want to make sure that people have a comfort level," he said, "that we see why they don't want to move and see if we can alleviate some of those anxieties."

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