In Miami, Liberty Square is Reaching a Dream
[Liberty Square in 1937]
Liberty Square in 1937
[Liberty Square ready for redevelopment]
Liberty Square ready for redevelopment
[Phase II of Liberty Square is now ongoing]
Phase II of Liberty Square is now ongoing
[Ms. Sharon Gregory the first resident to return to the brand new Liberty Square Phase I apartments, is visited by Secretary Carson]
Ms. Sharon Gregory the first resident to return to the brand new Liberty Square Phase I apartments, is visited by Secretary Carson
[On July 1st, elected officials and community leaders welcomed the community back to Liberty Square]
On July 1st, elected officials and community leaders welcomed the community back to Liberty Square

On Monday, July 1st, Sharon Gregory had a special guest in her brand-new apartment in Liberty Square.  Secretary Carson was there to visit as she just moved back to the place she has called home the last 17 years.

For her, it seemed to be the unexpected conclusion of an endeavor. "I didn't believe all they said back then. But they were there for me all the way and, here I am. I am the first to return. I am speechless, that is how beautiful it is," Gregory explained.

Liberty Square (colloquially referred to as "Pork & Beans") is a Miami-Dade public housing apartment complex in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. It is one of the oldest public housing developments in the nation. Serving low-income families since 1937, it slowly deteriorated; families struggled to keep their children safe and put food on the table. The housing authority couldn’t keep up with the continued requirements of its obsolescence.

"Faith is taking the first step without seeing the path," said HUD Southeast Regional Administrator Denise Cleveland-Leggett recalling the early ambivalence of residents and their reluctance to embrace the bold plans presented to replace 709 dilapidated public housing apartments with 1,455 brand new units that would include public housing, mixed-income affordable rental housing, and homeownership with a total investment of more than $300 million.

After years of neglect and broken promises, there was no reason to believe this time it would be a different outcome for the residents of old "pork and beans".

But change was coming. Phase I finally took off two years ago with the demolition of 73 units, now replaced by 204 new apartments in six buildings. HUD's $2 million in HOME funds from the City of Miami and $1.5 million in Public Housing Capital Funds from Miami-Dade County Public Housing Agency were leveraged at a ratio of 13 to 1 to fund its total cost of $46.5 million.

Related Urban was the developer selected by Miami-Dade Public Housing Community Development to transform the area. Albert Milo, company President, said more than 70 meetings were held with the community and local leaders to listen to their concerns and needs. On July 1st, Michael Liu, Executive Director of the housing authority welcomed the community back to see the transformation.

Part of its success came from planning, before commencing the work. Former HUD Miami Field Office Director José Cintrón, now retired, encouraged the housing authority to take the efforts to implement Section 3 requirements up a notch to insert them in the contract with their selected developer. Section 3 indicates that entities receiving federal funds should make their best effort to train and hire residents of the area where the funds are being used. As a result of the efforts and negotiations with the developer, which also included HUD Public Housing team, County staff, the community, and the Board of County Commissioners, the housing authority reports that 23% or 115 of new hires for Liberty Square Phase I met Section 3 requirements, and 58% of all subcontracts were awarded to Section 3, small, women-owned, or minority businesses.

Phase II is ongoing, and the total development is expected to be ready in about five years.

Secretary Carson summarized what is happening in Liberty Square: "We are not just building housing capital in Liberty Square – we are building human capital. Together, we can continue to lift people out of the cycle of poverty and onto the path of the American Dream. As Liberty Square shows, that dream is always within our reach," Secretary Carson recapped.