CRESPOGRAM REPORT
JANUARY 21, 2015
BARRED FROM NUMEROUS GOVERNMENTAL COMPUTER NETWORKS FOR TELLING THE TRUTH

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CRA’S ARE LITTLE MORE THAN GIANT  
SLUSH FUNDS FOR POLITICIANS
INSTEAD OF SPENDING MONEY THE WAY THE LAW REQUIRES, MIAMI’S CRA’S, CONTROLLED BY BOARD OF DIRECTORS MADE UP OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CITY COMMISSION HAVE A LONG AND UNSAVORY HISTORY OF SCREWING OVER THE POOR AND GIVING TAX MONEY TO THEIR POLITICAL FRIENDS AND BENEFACTORS
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Dear Adrian;


I write to applaud you and the Miami Workers Center for taking action to bring attention to not only the failure of government to address the promise of the Federal Housing Act of 1949  of " a decent home and a suitable living environment” for all American families,  but also the callous disregard (as illustrated by Miami CRA Board of Commissioners and Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon’s reported comments)  of the elected and appointed officials in Miami-Dade County and its incorporated areas and special districts to the plight of those who have no other option than to live in slum housing and in dangerous blighted neighborhoods because of the failure of all of these “responsible” officials to fulfill the mandate they have to alleviate slums and blight and provide affordable housing. Forty-five (45) years ago the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Redevelopment Act of 1969 with that specific mandate—alleviate slums and blight and provide affordable housing. Under this Act, Miami-Dade County has 10 Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) in incorporated municipalities, and four (4) in County unincorporated areas, and one proposed for the area around Zoo Miami. Have they, in all of the years they have been in existence, and for all of the millions and millions of dollars they have spent, in addition to all of the Federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development millions given to the County and its municipalities (not to mention State money), adequately addressed their mandate? 


These CRAs are funded by the ad valorem general funds of the County and the cities that have CRAs--the money CRAs spend is not OPM (other people’s money), but property taxes paid by those in Miami-Dade County. These millions and millions of dollars are diverted to the CRA’s TRUST FUND to alleviate slums and blight and provide affordable housing—but what do the CRAs do with this alleviation of slum and blight and affordable housing trust fund money? They pay token attention to affordable housing, and lavish millions on developers (as much as $90 million to Worldcenter), use millions each year to support the debt on the Performing Arts Center so that the original committed tourist taxes can be used to pay the debt on the Marlins baseball stadium, give millions to the expansion and operation of the Miami Beach Convention Center, and even give a million dollars to support the operating budget of the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) because the donors did not step up as promised to pay for such operational costs. And there is so much more, as you are well aware.


In order to help you educate others, I attach a number of items to illustrate the continued failure of so many in Miami-Dade County and its municipalities and special districts to alleviate slums and blight and provide affordable housing, and as I state in the comment to the attached Miami Today editorial last week by Michael Lewis, they are playing reverse Robin Hood—taking from the poor and giving to the rich. Please feel free to forward this e-mail.


Among the attachments is an article from 2006 that shows that this is not a new issue, statistics regarding affordability, the December 6 Miami Herald article with the Hardemon quote (good reporting by Nadge Green and David Smiley), your notice of the protest (and hope you will do it again and in more locations to more of the callous officials), the Miami Today item, a Letter to the Editor from the Herald about the CRAs, and a Memo which illustrates the “fast and loose” efforts of CRAs to spend poverty money on the toys of the rich—an analysis of the legality of the Omni CRA spending $1,000,000 of slum and blight/affordable housing trust fund money on the operating expenses of the PAMM. And, finally —a “hot off the press" article about the vow this morning expressed by new Miami-Dade Commission Chair Jean Monestime that his tenure as Chair would be about fighting for society’s neediest.


In closing, let me say that if the priorities of local officials are to change, it is citizen action that is needed to counteract the impact of all those who make a living out of the business of serving the poor and “providing” affordable housing.  There are many, many good and honorable actors out there and they should be recognized, but the others, like Commissioner Hardemon, must be taken to task when they get out of line.  Like I stated when I began this e-mail, I write to applaud you for your actions.


Frank Schnidman


Frank Schnidman, J.D.; LL.M.

Henry D. Epstein Distinguished Professor

of Urban and Regional Planning, and

Executive Director

Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions (CUES)

School of Urban and Regional Planning

Florida Atlantic University

777 Glades Road, Bldg. 44, SO 284

Boca Raton, FL  33431  USA

TEL:  561-297-4166

CELL: 954-599-8715

E-Mail: schnidma@fau.edu

I first came to understand the degree of chicanery that occurs with the way that the the City of Miami CRA’s gives away the ad valorem tax money that fund its operations in 2013 when I spent almost 3 months researching and writing my 8 Part series detailing how then Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Black Film Festival - a festival hosted on Miami Beach -and how the SEOPW and OMNI CRA each gave $200,000 to a feature film produced by Robert Townsend, that left town owning people almost $200,000.


In Part II of that series, I referenced a 2003 story written by Oscar Corral in the Miami Herald that included the revelation of how the CRA back then had spend $34.7 million dollars over a 10 year period without starting a single low-cost housing project during that time, even though low-cost housing was one of the principal goals and requirements for how the agency was supposed to spend its money.


In the years since, the members of the Miami City Commission who serve as the Board members of the city’s two CRA’s (OMNI and SEOPW), have found all kinds of ways to give away tens of millions of dollars, with none of it complying with the legislative requirements on how that money was supposed to be spent.


The decision of the SEOPW CRA, now chaired by Commission Keon Hardemon, to give as much as $90 million in Tax Increment Funds (TIFF) to the Worldcenter developers over the Christmas holidays has once again reignited and energized a number of folks in the community who believe that the way that both of the Miami’s CRA’s gives away money is not only wrong and illegal, but possibly criminal to boot.


Three of the City Commissioners who sit as board members on these CRA Boards are attorneys so they know full well how to read and comprehend legislation. They know, and understand exactly what the legislation that created the CRA’s requires them to do, and they know that by giving away these tens of millions of dollars in the way that they’ve been doing purposely twists and circumvents the law so as to change the criteria for the money these agencies give away from being one of eliminating “slum and blight,” to illegally treating these monies as “economic development” funds, thereby circumventing the law.


In behaving as they do, the Board members have also ignored the requirements that stipulate that the CRA money must be spent within the boundaries of the CRA Districts, and even worse, they’ve given away millions and millions of dollars for activities and projects that not only have little or nothing to do with eliminating “slum and blight,” but are blatantly intended as gifts to their friends and political supporters.


The most recent example I’ve written about was Peoples BBQ.  The $1 million that Peoples BBQ want the SEOPW CRA to give them to renovate their restaurant doesn’t have anything to do with eliminating “slum and blight.”


They claim the money is going to be used for renovation. That’s makes this an “economic development” issue, not a “slum and blight” issue, and on top of that it’s not a loan that will be paid back so that others could benefit from that money. The request is for an out-and-out gift of this money.


What justification is there in giving a million dollar gift to a private business that if they had managed their money better would have been able to finance its own renovations, or at worst, gone to a bank and gotten a loan, especially since they have a coveted billboard on their property supposedly generating as much, or more than $20,000 a month in location fees.


Nor is this the first money that peoples BBQ got for renovation. A couple years ago they got $45,000 for renovation from the CRA when Michelle Spence-Jones was the Chairwoman, and if the current plans require any portion of the building to be torn down, then that $45,000 will have been uselessly spent.

From the $88-$90 million just allocated to the Worldcenter developers by the SEOPW CRA,  to the money diverted to cover the City of Miami’s costs to build the Parking Garages at the Marlin’s baseball stadium - which 4 years after the stadium opened have yet to be rented out - to $400,000 to fund a crappy low budget movie that left town owing $200,000 to local folks, it’s been one hustle after another.


When the Perez Art Museum last year needed more marketing money because the rich folks who promised to give them the money didn’t, Commissioner Sarnoff and his OMNI CRA were quick to give the museum $1 million of money that was supposed to be spent to eliminate “slum and blight.”


In another cockeyed deal, the OMNI CRA also ended up paying for the $50 million in bonds for the city’s share of the money for the Port Tunnel.


Along the way, Commissioner Sarnoff has never been stingy when it came to giving away tens of millions of dollars for deep-pocket developers building high-rise condos for rich folks on land that was purposely left vacant until the property values and northward development of the city made economic sense. That’s why these same developers are now giving him $10,000, $20,000 and even more in donations to his ECO to help finance his wife’s campaign to replace him as District 2 Commissioner.


There’s no finesse with this crowd.  Sarnoff gave them CRA money, and they were quick to give him back ten’s of thousands of dollars each in campaign donations, or donations for his foundation, or for his wife foundation now that she discovered at the age of 59 a sudden urge to be concerned about the homeless.


Lastly there are the handful of politically connected Black folks who, as part of the Family and Friends Plan, have always lined up demanding their share of the spoils from whichever District 5 Commissioner they helped get elected, or are “distantly” related to.


The SEOPW and OMNI Chairmen and the CRA Board of Directors have never had a problem finding money to give to any of the enterprises run by folks with an exalted sense of entitlement who in turn are ready to give back sizable campaign donations, and who knows what else, as a way of expressing of gratitude for receiving all of this public money.


Yet for the people who live within the boundaries of the OMNI and SEOPW CRA communities, and who were supposed to be the real beneficiaries of this money being used to improve THEIR communities and their lives, all they’ve gotten over the years while these thieves have given away hundreds of millions of dollars has been shit on a stick!


It’s Miami, Bitches!

Last Friday, after I posted a photo and a press release issued by the Miami Worker’s Center that  showed a handful of protesters in front of City Hall protesting comments that Commissioner Hardemon had made in a Miami Herald article dealing with the horrible living conditions in several housing units owned by Miami’s most notorious Slumlords, FAU Professor Frank Schnidman, a nationally recognized expert on the operation of CRA’s wrote to Adrian Madriz, the Community Organizer for the Worker’s Center who organized the protest.


Here is that letter.