By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The Town Park Plaza North condominium association continues to deteriorate, despite receiving a $15 million taxpayer-funded grant in 2014. The grant was awarded to a private nonprofit, St. John Community Development Corporation, who awarded a contract to a small, relatively inexperienced company, Mastermind Construction.
According to the Miami Herald, the plan was to completely renovate 169 units in 20 condominium buildings, over a period of 3 years. During the renovation, 15 families at a time would be temporarily relocated to allow for a complete gut and rebuild of interior units. Grant money would be used to pay relocation and temporary housing expenses.
But the project is running way behind schedule and over budget. And in the meantime, residents are living in units with broken toilets, leaky plumbing, improperly sealed windows (which were recently replaced on all buildings), cockroach and rat infestations.
Other residents have been displaced for nearly a year, awaiting the day they can return to their newly renovated homes.
Read the Miami Herald report for more details:
Roaches, rats and taxpayer dollars: Plan to save crumbling Overtown condos in trouble
BY DAVID OVALLE, DAVID SMILEY AND NICHOLAS NEHAMAS
The tax-funded renovation of Town Park Plaza North, a crumbling Overtown community of more than 100 families, was touted as a new beginning for one of Miami’s most impoverished and neglected neighborhoods.
But two years after breaking ground, the ambitious $15 million project has been mired in delays, conflicts and cost-overruns. Renovations have finished at just three of Town Park’s 20 condo buildings, less than half of what planners expected to complete by now.
Families told they’d have gleaming new homes have been exiled to temporary housing for more than a year. Those who live in units still awaiting renovation have to battle rotting pipes, swarms of roaches and broken air conditioners.
What happened at Town Park?
The history of Town Park goes back to 1973, when multifamily housing was constructed and organized as a cooperative association. The original vision was to create long-term affordable housing, and putting cooperative members in charge of their own destiny.
In a cooperative association, members do not own real property. Instead, members of a housing cooperative own shares of a corporation, and collectively share costs for construction and maintenance though payment of cooperative assessments or maintenance fees. Each member becomes a lessee, with an exclusive right to reside in one of the units. As long as fees are paid to the cooperative association, the member maintains stable housing in the same apartment, no longer at the mercy of a landlord who might decide to sell the apartment building, resulting in tenant evictions. Normally, lessees are responsible for maintaining the interior of their apartments.
But, as explained in the report by Miami Herald, over the years, the condition of Town Park deteriorated, both inside and outside. As is common in affordable housing situations, cooperative members were not realistic about collecting assessments at levels that would properly maintain the apartments, grounds, and related infrastructure. Litte, if any, funds were reserved for future repair and replacement of utility lines, roofs, windows, doors, and more. And because most of the owners and residents of units at Town Park survive on low incomes, very little money has been spent on maintaining the interiors of apartments.
By 2003, Town Park was nearly bankrupt, and under the management of a receiver, who worked with residents to convert the cooperative association to a condominium association. That made residents true owners of their units, rather than lessees of the cooperative corporation, but did not address decades of deferred maintenance.
The $15 million grant was to provide condo owners with totally renovated units. Doing the math, considering there are 169 units, that averages nearly $90,000 per unit.
And, given apparent mismanagement of the project, plus multiple cost overruns, total spending on the project could exceed $20 million. Some also question whether conflicts of interest have inflated the cost of this project.
That leads critics to wonder, is it worth the exorbitant cost to preserve 44 year old apartment-turned-condominium units? Or would it have been more cost effective to tear down Town Park and build new units from scratch?
How much money has been funneled to the contractors and the nonprofit organization, and were those sums justified?
And here is another somewhat provocative question: is cooperative or condominium ownership a viable model for affordable housing?
Or is it unrealistic to expect low income households to budget for, consistently collect assessments, and save millions of dollars over time, in order to preserve their own common interest housing, without the need for government intervention and public assistance?
Are there better ways to support the need for affordable housing by preventing decay, rather than reacting to the issue one housing crisis at a time?
Want to know more about housing cooperatives? Start here.
Who is Responsible?
Making Repairs in Co-ops and Condos
Buying into a houising cooperative, National Association of Housing Cooperatives