From Knight Manor to Nightmare

Page 5 of 8

At that meeting, Commissioner J.L. Plummer repeated many of the concerns voiced three months earlier by De Yurre, who had since been voted out of office. "Four million dollars is a lot of money. What does the city have in hand to designate what's going to be built?" Plummer queried, sounding eerily like Dawkins had in July of 1994. "I have not seen the final designs....Have we guaranteed the rates that will be charged? Have we got any kind of bidding procedure that must be followed?"

Cesar Odio piped up. The city manager is not permitted to make policy decisions; he may only implement the will of the commissioners. But in this case, he decided he had something to offer. "Can I say something, Commissioner Plummer? This is in an area -- I went out and looked at it the other night -- next to the new high school, next to an industrial area. If we do this, we're bringing people back to live in this area," he said, "and it's a beautiful project." He made no mention of the involvement of his brother and brother-in-law.

Notwithstanding Plummer's skepticism, every commissioner voted in favor of Dawkins's corrected resolution.

"My concern was, here was this group -- what track record do they have?" complains De Yurre today from his Brickell Avenue law office. "They were supposed to do a study, and based on that study it would be determined if the project were feasible or not. You don't just start building and hope the buyers come along. You get the buyers first and start building.

"You know where that money is going to go? It is going to go to total waste. You can't just turn over money like that to people. It is totally unconscionable."

Problems with the new project arose almost immediately. The purchase date was set for Friday, December 15, 1995. A day before the closing, Jeff Hepburn sent a letter to the Urban League noting that the most basic of matters had not yet been resolved. The developers had not had the property appraised, for instance, and they were intending to pay for the land with grants for which they had not completed the applications. The closing was bumped back three weeks, to January 8 of this year.

In a January 5 memo to Assistant City Attorney Linda Kelly Kearson, Alfredo Duran (one of Hepburn's staffers) raised more questions. Duran noticed that the purchase agreement Levine signed in late 1994 stated a price of $700,000, with the land composing only ten percent of the cost. The apartments were going to be torn down; why, Duran wanted to know, was the city paying $700,000 for $70,000 worth of property?

He also remarked on the wavering scope of the planned development. The Urban League told him the development would consist of between 70 and 90 single-family homes, while the grant applications described a 134-unit mix of townhouses and single-family homes.

With all these unresolved issues, Duran doubted the January 8 closing deadline could be met. Levine reluctantly agreed to push the closing back to January 31.

On January 26, Duran wrote another, longer memo, this one to his boss, Elbert Waters. Although the the scope of the project was still in flux, he noted, the developers had submitted a budget with a total project cost of nearly $15 million. At that price, Duran pointed out, each home in a 134-unit complex would cost an average of $111,000 to build, a figure that "appear[s] to be very high as well as making it difficult to provide these units as affordable housing."

It's evident from his memo that the relocation of current Knight Manor residents caused Duran some concern. By law, the Urban League would be required to relocate everyone to adequate housing A an expensive process in which each tenant is entitled to up to four years of rent subsidies, plus money to cover the cost of moving. Yet the Urban League budgeted only $180,000 for relocation. Wrote Duran: "[B]ased on past experiences by the City of Miami with relocation activities [the amount] is understated."

By now nearly everyone who rented at Knight Manor has moved out, many without all the aid to which they were entitled.

Some people, claims resident Climmy Taylor, didn't receive anything at all. "The Urban League told them they had to go and they left," Taylor gripes.

Not Taylor. He refuses to leave his two-bedroom apartment until he gets the $700 in moving expenses the Urban League is required to pay him. "I'm going to need to rent a U-Haul," he grumbles. "I'm going to have to buy some boxes. How am I going to move if I don't get money?"

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Robert Andrew Powell