Earlier this year, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced $200 million plans to raze and redevelop Miami’s oldest housing project, Liberty Square Houses, also known as Pork ‘n’ Beans. Built in 1936, the buildings are in need of an upgrade — most residents complaining of the lack of air conditioning, along with mold and rat infestations. And for decades, violence and crime have increased, plaguing the community.
But residents are holding their applause on the plan. Many are now worried they won't be guaranteed a spot in the new complex, pointing to a bidding application that pledges just 640 spots in the project — nearly fifty less than in Pork n' Beans. The plans also call for some families to be moved to Brownsville, where there’s a noted rivalry between the local Brownsville housing project and Liberty Square.
Thursday morning, the Miami Worker’s Center is holding a press conference to address these concerns at the Liberty Square Houses. Residents are demanding an emergency hold on all housing actions and evictions until Mayor Gimenez and the Miami-Dade Public Housing Agency offer a “real” relocation plan.
“We don’t want secret deals between politicians and developers. We want a real say in our future,” says George Gibson, a lifetime Liberty Square resident.
City officials say those fears are overblown, though they understand the concerns — especially because last time the city redeveloped a housing project, the Scott Carver, hundreds were displaced. “We are sensitive to the resident’s concerns, especially with what occurred or is alleged to have occurred back then at Scott-Carver,” says Michael Liu, Miami-Dade director of public housing and community development. “But this redevelopment is very different.”
Gibson, a 48-year-old pastor, has lived at Liberty Square his whole life. His mother also lived there during her childhood, too. It’s not hard for Gibson to recount fond memories playing on the swings and roller-skating outside his building with his five brothers and sisters.
He admits that Liberty Square is in need of an upgrade. But he’s worried about his family being displaced. Two of his sisters that also live there are moving after one was handed a Section 8 vouchers and the other a transfer.
“We’ll survive,” Gibson says. “They can always text and call, and if push came to shove they could also email me. It won’t be the same, but we’ll manage.”
But Gibson's biggest concern is about the consequences of moving some residents to Lincoln Gardens, a new housing facility in Brownsville. Gibson explains that there is a rivalry between the residents at the Brownsville housing project and residents at Liberty Square.
“It’s enmity between these two housing facilities and the surrounding area,” Gibson says. “I’m worried about the children and what will happen when they walk to school.”
Gibson’s sisters are not the first to be granted transfers or Section 8 vouchers. The Miami Worker’s Center says residents are reporting an uptick in transfers and section 8 vouchers being granted, viewing it as a maneuver to push families out of Liberty Square and keep them from returning once the redevelopment is done.
“It’s a tactic similar to the one used in the Scott-Carver housing project redevelopment that displaced hundreds of families over a decade ago,” Daniela Saczek, a spokesperson for the Miami Worker’s Center, says.
Ivonne Stratford is a former Scott-Carver resident now living in Liberty Square Houses. She is one of a handful of residents pushing for more transparency in the relocation plan. “We want Director Liu to meet with community immediately to disclose the details of the plan in order for the current process to be transparent, for people to know what’s next and for residents to know the relocation process and return plan,” Stratford said. “We don’t want another Scott Carver situation.”
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Despite the worries, Liu is confident that the current relocation plan will not displace any residents and stresses that he and his team have been working closely with the Liberty Square residents council. He tells New Times that the 640 units noted in the city application is just a benchmark for developers and points out that only 633 units are currently occupied at Pork 'n' Beans.
Liu explains that no one is being forced to leave Liberty Square. He says if a family is granted Section 8, they can turn it down if they want to stay. He says it is the head of household’s choice to put in a request for a transfer, and like a Section 8 voucher, can also turn it down.
According to Liu, decision-makers have been meeting with Brownsville leaders and juvenile behavior specialists who say that the Brownsville-Liberty City rivalry will not be a threat to residents moving to the new housing facility in Brownsville. “We as landlords manage our properties to be as safe and habitable as we can get,” Liu says. “We are not singling out any development with higher enforcement or transfers.”
However, Gibson and his family remain skeptical. “I’m afraid it’s another broken promise. It’s like the Promised Land motif: you’re able to look but not go over,” Gibson says.