The Bitterness of Sugar Hill

Page 5 of 5

Today Sugar Hill is inching toward completion. A new construction contract is being put out for bid by FHC, according to Sharlene Adelman, a city housing-program manager. The new contractor will be expected to finish the apartments in 90 days from the onset of work, but Adelman acknowledges that the community building might take a little longer. At this point city officials have no contingency plan if this contract also fails to get the job done.

But even if tenants move in, they might not be happy with what they find: Closet doors that fall off their hinges, bathroom sinks beneath windows, bubbled vinyl flooring, and flimsy plastic kitchen piping are only some of the shoddy materials and workmanship that await them.

It didn't have to be this way. Sugar Hill didn't have to be an exorbitant waste of time and money out of the small pot of goodwill expended on the inner city.

North of Sugar Hill, on the edge of a slightly kitschy but standard South Florida-style manmade lake, a private developer is building and selling new homes and townhouses on pleasant, full-size lots that back up to the water's edge.

The developer's sales pitch is simple: "Everything's included."

"Everything" includes all the gizmos and polish that typically comprise the good old no-fooling-around American middle-class standard of living: the marble sills and saddles, the choice of tiles and carpets, the dishwashers, good-quality appliances, garbage disposals, and alarm systems. The homes must be nice, or the developer won't be able to sell them, and the developer and his partners will go broke.

The developer's costs also typically include the interest paid on high-priced construction loans, on an advertising budget, on commissions, and on the wages of a sales force. And more.

These three-bedroom, two-bath homes sell for $91,000. The three-bedroom, two-bath townhouses sell for $78,000, and offer more than 1100 square feet of living space.

The small Sugar Hill apartments cost far more than the privately built houses, which have better workmanship and higher quality fixtures.

And then there are the intangibles the private developer doesn't offer: the gunfire and street noise that can be the nighttime soundtrack of Liberty City. Instead, some new homeowners say, in the evening they listen to the water lapping at the edge of their back yards.

And of course, there is no train.

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Jacob Bernstein
Contact: Jacob Bernstein
Steve Satterwhite