Monday, July 30, 2007

Support Umoja Village- Wednesday Aug. 1, 10am City of Miami

Take Back the Land

WHAT: Vote on Umoja Rising, the development to rebuild the Umoja Village as up to code low-income, supportive housing with ground floor retail/commercial.

WHEN: Wednesday, August 1, 2007, 10:00AM

WHERE: City of Miami City Hall, 3500 Pan-American Drive, Coconut Grove. We are also doing a caravan, leaving from the Umoja Village land (62nd St. and NW 17th Ave.) at 9:00AM.

Come Voice your support for the Umoja Rising! Witness this historic vote! Speak out against Ron Book and the Homeless Trust efforts to undermine this historic proposal!

Support Umoja Rising

After six months of housing and feeding otherwise homeless people, the Umoja Village Shantytown, built on the corner of 62nd St. and NW 17th Ave., was destroyed by a devastating fire. The Umoja Village was part protest, part living symbol of the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing and all home for almost 50 people.

Subsequently, Umoja Village organizers and residents proposed building up to code low-income supportive housing on the land. On Wednesday, August 1, 2007, the Miami City Commission will vote on a resolution proposed by Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones to convey the land for the Umoja Rising project, conditioned upon proper financing for about 60 housing units and ground floor retail/commercial space.

The vote is nothing short of historic, particularly for the black community, which endures the brunt of the crisis. The vote is transparent, open to the public and a fair response to the extreme housing crisis.

In spite of this ground breaking political solution, to the direct benefit of the Liberty City community, the powers that be at the Homeless Trust are preparing to use their status as gatekeepers to unilaterally crush the Umoja Rising. The Trust claims it only opposes the lack of a bid process in conveying the land, however, it is clear this argument is only a front used to legitimize what is opposition to the project based on petty, not principled, reasons. Not only is there no written policy against local governments offering no-bid contracts or land, the Trust's chairman has personally lobbied for no-bid contracts in the past, while the Trust itself continues to support and fund two agencies who received no-bid contracts. Not surprisingly, the Trust's chair is on the payroll of one of those organizations, while the other one votes to give him money.

The Homeless Trust is the clearinghouse for agencies and programs impacting the homeless in Miami-Dade County. Ron Book, the chair of the Trust, argues that the publicly owned lot should be put out to bid instead of directly conveyed. To be sure, this is not an unreasonable position, in and of itself, particularly in the context of recent corruption scandals. However, it must also be noted that most of the scandals recently reported have involved cases in which bids were used. The bid process is not free from the corrupting influences of money, crooked politicians or unethical lobbyists.

In this instance, direct conveyance is not only appropriate, it is the right thing to do and supported by the impacted community. Those who disagree are free, and encouraged, to voice their opinion at the Commission meeting. What Book and the Trust are doing, however, is not just voicing, or even lobbying for, their position. They are circumventing the political process in order to make unilateral decisions, behind closed doors, which will doom the project regardless of its support in the community or by elected officials.

In order to finance low-income supportive housing, builders must apply for state tax credits, a process which requires the signature of the Homeless Trust. Even if the land is properly and legally conveyed, enjoys broad community support and meets all other requirements, the Homeless Trust can unilaterally, without an open and transparent process kill the entire deal, simply by refusing to sign. The project will not qualify for tax credits, which are, incidentally, awarded via competitive bid by the state of Florida, not the Homeless Trust.

Consequently, even if the black community garners the political power to win the land, Ron Book and the Trust can kill the deal by denying us the funding required to build on the land.

Two fundamental issues are at stake with the Ron Book/Homeless Trust opposition to the Umoja Rising conveyance.

First, there are serious public policy implications involved when an unelected county agency unilaterally imposes demands on the political process of sovereign municipal governments. When local elected governmental bodies determine processes by which they award contracts or convey land, and the process is legal and not corrupt, the mayor can veto and the courts can overturn. If the Trust has its way here, unelected agencies could use the power of the purse to trump decisions made by elected officials.

When unsatisfied with housing policies, community organizations petitioned local elected governments for changes in policies, laws and budget priorities. Who elects Ron Book? How are the policies of the Homeless Trust determined? Where are those polices published (they are not on the Homeless Trust website)? What is the recourse if those policies are bad or unpopular or themselves illegal or corrupt?

Worse still, what happens when two or more agencies enforce conflicting policy demands? What if, due to recent revelations of influence peddling during the bidding process, Community Development demands all contracts must be awarded by direct votes of the commission, without bids? With each agency refusing to approve projects which fail to meet their own internal, and secret, policy objectives, the level of gridlock would ensure no project ever proceeds.

The second issue at stake is simple fairness and consistency. Does the Homeless Trust have a written, verifiable policy opposing no-bid contracts, for products/services or land and second, has the Trust ever continued a relationship with an agency which received a no-bid contract for products/services or land?

Prior to addressing the Trust itself, because Ron Book is personally advocating, it is appropriate to explore his own personal commitment to this position. Given Miami-Dade County's reputation for influence peddling, it would be difficult to imagine that a high powered lobbyist has never advocated for a no-bid contract.

In early 2001, South Stevedoring, Inc. was awarded a 20-year cargo terminal operating lease from the Broward County Commission, without a bidding procedure or process. The award was controversial not only because one of South Stevedoring's founders was indicted on corruption charges related to that company's work in the Port of Miami, but because another firm vied for the contract by offering Broward County $750,000 more per year in return. Ron Book represented South Stevedoring, arguing that the company should get the contract in spite of the controversy and without a bid process.

The Miami Herald reported: "There was no bidding procedure... South Stevedoring has hired well-connected lobbyists and political consultants Ron Book and Judy Stern to convince the County Commission to endorse that choice." Clearly, there is no principled opposition to the no-bid process.

The Homeless Trust Supports No-Bid Winners

As far as we have been able to determine, the Homeless Trust does not have an official policy regarding the manner in which contracts or land is awarded to agencies outside of the Homeless Trust itself. That is to say, even if the Homeless Trust itself only awards contracts and conveys land via the bid process, it does not have a policy requiring its agencies to win all other contracts and land in the same manner from other sources. Such a policy would appear invasive not only of the agency, but of local governments as well. The merits of the policy aside, it does not seem to actually exist.

None-the-less, the Trust, through chair Ron Book, is claiming that they "don't support giving any deal"- presumably land or other financial contract- without a bid process. In practice, however, the Trust has, and continues to support those deals.


The James E Scott Community Association, whose executive director is Miami-Dade Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, under a constant ethical cloud for his dealings with land and housing issues, is in the Homeless Trust continuum of care, even after reports of severe financial mismanagement, including accounts overdrawn by over $300,000. More germane here, JESCA has been awarded multiple no bid contracts by Miami-Dade County, including one by the infamous Miami-Dade Housing Corporation.i In all, JESCA received approximately $220,000 per year in no-bid grants from Miami-Dade Countyii, the government which funds and houses the Homeless Trust.

In spite of these facts, well documented in the media, the Trust continues to include JESCA in its continuum of care, even listing them on the Trust's official directory of supportive housing services,iii the same directory in which the Umoja Rising development would one day be listed.

New Horizons

During the November 3, 2005 meeting, then District 5 Commissioner Jeffery Allen motioned to give both the land and the apartment complex on the land, located on the corner of 60th St. and NW 12th Ave., just seven blocks from the Umoja Village, to New Horizons, for free.iv The commission approved, with support from the Mayor's office, and the land was conveyed in February 2006 for $0.00v. The apartment complex is currently used as supportive housing and New Horizons is on the Homeless Trust continuum of care and directory of supportive housing services.

In neither instance was the Trust recorded as either opposing the no-bid deal or, more importantly, the agency's subsequent inclusion in the continuum of care, and the benefits included therein.

Why the nonchalance regarding no-bid contracts one minute and the hard line opposition to them the next? Perhaps one reason is that both agencies are exceptions to the "policy," is that they both, in one way or another, have paid Ron Book.

Ron Book is a paid lobbyist for Miami-Dade County, a contract for which he was paid $200,000 in 2006 for his work in Tallahassee alonevi. Dorrin Rolle is not only the executive director of JESCA, he sits on the board that votes to give Book the $200,000.

Oddly enough, Book is also a paid lobbyist for New Horizons. In 2006, when their land deal was consummated, Book was paid approximately $40,000 by New Horizons to lobby on their behalf in Tallahassee. During this same time, Book, as Chair of the Trust, is helping make decisions about how much support to provide to his client, New Horizons.

We have been unable to find a Homeless Trust policy regarding board members who vote on Trust agencies while simultaneously receiving checks from them, but this would probably represent a better use of their time than trying to control the way government bodies convey their land.

In the context of the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing, direct conveyance of land for the building of Umoja Rising is legal, proper, appropriate and the right thing to do. There is legitimate concern as to whether the organized and powerful opposition to the project is based on principle, or if the "bid policy" argument is merely a smokescreen used to justify unprincipled opposition.

We implore the city Commission to vote for the conveyance of land for the Umoja Rising project and people of good conscience to come out and support the proposal.

Note: Serve the People, Inc., a 501(c)3 pending organization, is partnering with Carrfour Supportive Housing, the (a) premier supportive housing building in the state of Florida, and NANA, the premier small business support organization in Miami-Dade County, to build Umoja Rising.

i The Miami Herald, House of Lies: County official's agency gets cut, County Commissioner

Dorrin Rolle's nonprofit agency won a lucrative food-services contract with no bid required

by Debbie Cenziper, July 2006

ii Miami New Times, The Ghetto Governor, Dorrin Rolle's dedication to his district is in question by Francisco Alvarado, July 20, 2006

iv City of Miami Commission Agenda Minutes, Page 65, Item: 05-01218a, Thursday, November 3, 2006

v Miami-Dade County County Property Records,, address: 6000 NW 12th Ave., Miami, FL,

Folio: 01-3114-043-0580

Friday, July 27, 2007

Umoja Rising Story- Miami Herald

Activists for homeless closer to getting site for housing

The Umoja Village activists are one step closer to winning the land where their Liberty City shantytown once stood so they can develop it as transitional housing for the homeless.

The Miami City Commission passed a motion late Thursday night to support a project called Umoja Rising, that would be built in partnership with Carrfour Supportive Housing, a Miami-based organization with a track record.

The commissioners stopped short of conveying the land at the corner of 62nd Street and Northwest 17th Avenue to the group. That step will come up at a commission meeting Wednesday after the Umoja proposal is hammered out between city staff and the activists.

Opposition could come from other developers of affordable housing and homeless housing, because the city-owned land would not be put out to bid to give all interested builders a chance to compete.

But several commissioners said other land has been conveyed without going out to bid to non-profit groups in the past, and the Umoja activists deserve special consideration.

Umoja Village was founded in October 2006 by community organizer Max Rameau, who took a page from the playbook of activists in Brazil, South Africa and Mexico and strategically selected a piece of public land to seize and give to ''the people'' after he became frustrated with the county's lack of response to the region's affordable housing crisis and allegations of mismanagement and possible malfeasance in Miami-Dade's public housing agency.

Rameau and the homeless built a community on the lot out of cardboard, wood and stubborn hope. They voted on rules, like evicting disruptive residents. They grew collard greens and spinach and cooked their own food. They planted sunflowers. College students donated enough books for a library. Social service agencies offered help -- and have placed about 30 former residents in permanent housing.

The government-owned lot at 6201 NW 17th Ave. was once the home of a building of affordable apartments. The apartments were bulldozed years earlier and new apartments promised for the poor never materialized.

For six months, the Umoja communal existence drew international attention. Then one night in April, a candle tipped over and the shantytown burned to the ground. No one was injured.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has worked with the Umoja activists since the fire to come up with a plan to build housing for the homeless and other support services on the site.

''I know we aren't going to convey this land here tonight at 10:45, but I'd like to make a motion asking my fellow commissioners if they will support this when it comes back August 1,'' she said.

Commissioner Tomas Regalado pledged his support and praised Rameau. He said after last summer's expose by The Miami Herald of deep problems in the Miami Dade Housing Agency, Rameau could have gone home and written a letter to the editor.

''But instead he did another thing,'' Regalado said. ``He focused the attention nationally on this housing crisis here.... We have a lot of good things in Miami, but we can't hide our problems. And now because of Umoja and because of a newspaper, things are moving in the right direction.''

The commission unanimously passed Spence-Jones' motion asking for support of the Umoja proposal when it comes back Wednesday.

Take Back the Land, the Rameau group that founded Umoja, has formed a sister agency, Serve the People, Inc., which has a 501(c)3 non-profit application pending. The non-profit would serve as a landtrust and take ownership of the lots at corner of 62nd Street and Northwest 17th Avenue.

A preliminary proposal calls for $3 million in financing from the city and $7 million from Miami-Dade County. The bottom floor of the development would include some type of commercial space for small businesses and for social service agencies. The housing above would include a mix of transitional, low-income and possibly workforce housing, depending on what the Liberty City community wants.

Outreach surveys are being done by the Umoja activits to get community input.

The proposal from the activists says they would include a clause that would require the land and money to revert back to the city and county if malfeasance is found, or there is a general lack of progress in the development.

Rameau thanked commissioners for their pledge of support, and promised that the project, if approved, would meet the needs of those living in Liberty City and of any of the 44 Umoja residents who decide to return.

''It will meet the needs of the people already in the community, not the needs of people who want to come in and move out the people already there,'' he said.

Umoja Rises!

Greetings All:

At approximately 11:00pm on Thursday, July 26, 2007, exactly three months after the devastating fire which destroyed the Umoja Village Shantytown, the Miami City Commission voted 4-0 to direct the city manager to craft a resolution to convey the land on the corner of 62nd St. and NW 17th Ave. to the residents and organizers of the Umoja Village.

The motion was sponsored by District 5 Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. The vote on the official resolution to convey the land will happen on Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at a time to be determined.

This is a significant victory for the residents of the Umoja Village, all of Liberty City, for low-income housing in South Florida and for the entire social justice movement, particularly those engaged in land-based struggles against gentrification and for low-income housing.

The Umoja Village Shantytown was founded by Take Back the Land on October 23, 2006, and for six months housed and fed otherwise homeless people. Our political objectives are to house and feed people; assert the right of the black community to control land in the black community; and to build a new society. Residents ran and managed the village, were responsible for building and maintenance and voted on rules for the village in which they lived.

Umoja was something special, inspiring residents, supporters and visitors alike. Building the village also changed the terms of the struggle against gentrification, squarely addressing the issue of control over land as a means of addressing a housing crisis. After a fire destroyed the village, real questions emerged about what constitutes a logical conclusion to the campaign. This agreement provides some answers to those questions.

The land will be conveyed to Serve the People, Inc. and developed by Carrfour Supportive Housing with small business technical support provided by Neighbors And Neighbors Association, Inc. The ground floor of the development will be devoted to economic development, in the form of retail/commercial space, with the upper floors offering supportive and low-income housing.

While the vote and conveyance represents a significant victory for the Umoja Village, Liberty City and the broader movement, this is not a done deal. The vote did not actually convey the land, only direct the manager to prepare a resolution to convey the land. The final resolution must be approved by the commission on Wednesday, August 1, 2007. While our chances look good, we cannot become complacent.

Please keep informed about and support this important campaign. More updates coming soon!


Max Rameau
Take Back the Land
a project of the Center for Pan-African Development

Monday, July 23, 2007

Support Umoja Village at City Commission Meeting


Take Back the Land is calling on supporters to attend the city of Miami Commission meeting on Thursday, July 26, 2007, beginning at 3:00pm. Miami City Hall is located at 3500 Pan-American Drive, in Coconut Grove. At the meeting, the Commission will vote on the fate of the Umoja Village Shantytown's land.

After promising to convey the land to the residents and organizers of Umoja, Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones is going back on her promise and putting the lot out for bid, a notoriously corrupt process in the city of Miami. We demand that the city keep its word, and convey the land to the Umoja Village.

Following the tragic fire which destroyed the Umoja Village, Miami Commissioner Spence-Jones contacted Umoja Village, met with organizer Max Rameau and resident John Cata, and offered direct conveyance of the land, without a bid process. She also agreed to provide immediate housing for former Umoja residents, and the deal was reported in the Miami Herald and Miami Times.

After intense debate, we called off our planned protests and accepted the offer. We met with potential partners and crafted a proposal, which we submitted to Spence-Jones, as agreed, and tried to confirm the item for the July 26th Commission meeting.

Instead, Spence-Jones unilaterally and without explanation, nixed the deal and put the lot out to bid. Miami's bid process is notoriously rigged and corrupt, as often reported in the media, giving politically connected developers the inside track to use this public land for a gentrification project.

This is the same kind of double dealing which got us into this mess in the first place. Umoja was a tremendous victory for this community, and will not be swept under the rug.

Show your support for Umoja by attending this meeting and demanding elected officials live up to their commitments and convey the land directly to the residents and organizers of the Umoja Village. If officials are able to continue to lie to us and get away with it, we will be forced to resort to more drastic measures to house people ourselves.


Max Rameau
Take Back the Land
a project of the Center for Pan-African Development