Lobbyist Ron Book Tries to Tackle the Housing Crisis
Riptide can't pay his rent. So he recently headed downtown to visit the guys who advise the county commission on building affordable housing.
Weird. After you pass a sign that reads, "Lobbyists are required to register with the clerk of the board," standing at the head of the table is Ron Book, the biggest lobbyist of them all.
And it gets weirder. Book represents not only select cities such as Aventura and Miami, but also private concerns such as GL Homes Corp. and Maefield Development. So he's not exactly an unbiased source when it comes to deciding where to spend millions of federal dollars.
"To me, that's a conflict of interest to have Ron as chairman," says Millie Membiela, a member of the Community Affordable Housing Strategies Alliance.
Adds Gail Williams of the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc., an equal housing advocacy group: "I really didn't know that he was a lobbyist. That could present a problem."
It's tough to doubt Book's commitment to his causes. He has found time to lead Miami-Dade's Homeless Trust since the mid-Nineties, where he says he's helped reduced the county's homeless population from 8,000 to 1,300.
Book quickly shoots down a question about whether his lobbying efforts are a conflict. "It's just not an issue. We distribute millions in federal funding through the Homeless Trust as well.... Even if there are questions, [the alliance] is not responsible for signing away any money."
Watching Book at work in the meeting — commanding the chatty group from topic to topic, proclaiming "I believe in simplicity and efficiency" — it's easy to see why he won an election last month to lead the alliance. "I didn't seek out this position," he says. "There's no angle in it for me."
Adds Dan Vincent, another alliance member: "I don't know everyone he represents, but I think his mission and his intent, from what I can tell, is pure. I don't think he benefits financially from these things."
So what about paying Riptide's rent? Maybe Ronnie will give him a room in his $2.2 million pad in Plantation.
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