Activist Fights Overtown Development Project, Wants More Benefits for Local Residents

For years , a Miami city agency has sought to secure $60 million for a massive project in chronically impoverished Overtown. But now that the project is finally close to breaking ground, a local activist is claiming the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) illegally failed to hire any local contractors.

"If you're going to take these properties and make hundreds of millions of dollars, you've got to give something back to the community," says Edduard Prince, the activist.

The project will amount to a substantial overhaul for struggling Overtown: four new affordable-housing developments, three of which will also include retail spaces, as well as comprehensive refurbishment of existing housing units.

"These new developments will help to... drive the demand for goods and services," said CRA Executive Director Clarence Woods. "Small businesses and retailers will create an environment where more jobs will now be available in the community."

Woods's proclamation came after the agency closed on a $60 million loan with Wells Fargo on August 22. But that announcement came only after months of squabbling: In late 2013, county officials argued that an existing law capped its financial commitment to the city for the project, and for months the funding was delayed while the city and county sparred over commitments.

Prince filed a complaint against Woods and the CRA in July, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty because the agency contracted outside developers for the project. A magistrate recommended it be dismissed earlier this month, but Prince tells Riptide he plans on appealing. Prince isn't opposed to improvements, he says, but he thinks the new developments will lead to gentrification and higher rent prices. And he's concerned current Overtown residents will end up getting squeezed out.

"The face of Overtown is going to change, which is progress," he says. "But you have to give something back to these people that you're pushing out."

Prince doesn't expect any legal victories; his real motivation is to stir more conversation about how the project could better benefit current Overtown residents. "The purpose of these lawsuits," he says, "is for the community to have some type of benefit." Woods did not respond to a request for comment by Riptide.

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Trevor Bach

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