"Reprinted Courtesy of
Miami Herald, April 24, 2000, page B-1."
"Sweeping changes in the works"
      By Tyler Bridges

Cleanup could lure home buyers.

The simple act of a man sweeping the street outside his home in the 3100 block of Carter Street marks a dramatic change in a West Coconut Grove neighborhood -- a change that City Commissioner Johnny Winton believes could help lift Miami out of its position as one of the country's poorest cities. Donnell Bellamy was sweeping the street earlier this month following a Winton-led initiative in which city officials and Coconut Grove community leaders began cracking down on lax code enforcement on three West Grove streets, including Carter.

In the 3100 block, the city has shut down a crack house, towed away abandoned cars, directed vacant lots overgrown with trash to be cleaned and ordered houses to be painted.

``That kind of self-improvement you would not have seen before,'' Winton said, referring to Bellamy, who took a break from his sweeping several minutes later to say, ``The street has improved 100 percent.'' Winton is focusing on tighter code enforcement with a larger goal in mind: making poor neighborhoods more attractive for potential homeowners. It is Winton's belief, first expressed during his election campaign last year, that one of the few levers the city of Miami has to create wealth is to foster home ownership. He has said that owning a home that appreciates in value over time can be the best way for a person of modest means to acquire wealth.

In the 1990 Census, which had the latest available numbers, Miami was the fourth poorest city in the country. In Miami, 53.7 percent of households own their homes, compared to 66.8 percent nationally, according to the National Association of Realtors.

``In Miami for the last 20 years, we have ignored neighborhoods and have had a significant expansion of two negatives: drug dealing and absentee property owners who don't care about the quality of their tenants or the maintenance of their property,'' Winton said.

``People put cars on blocks on the grass, and they don't cut the lawn. What happens to the houses adjacent to the offending property? Values go down. No one wants to live next to bad neighbors. Before long, you get a spiral downhill, and it spreads like a cancer until it eats up the entire neighborhood.''

At Winton's initiative, and with the assistance of Coconut Grove community leaders, city regulators targeted three West Grove streets initially: Carter, Hibiscus and Plaza. Following the cleanup of those streets, the city now is targeting three more: Frow, Percival and Oak avenues. Winton hopes the program expands to other neighborhoods throughout Miami and has begun meeting with leaders on the Upper Eastside to get something under way there.

``He's on the right track,'' said Robert Lang, director of Urban and Metropolitan Research at the Washington, D.C.-based Fannie Mae Foundation. ``If you buy into an area where property is not appreciating, your investment is at risk. You need code enforcement.''

Other Crackdowns.

Lang noted that Philadelphia's new mayor began a program in March to haul away 1,000 abandoned cars a day there during the next 40 days. New York City also has cracked down on code enforcement in recent years, said Bill Traylor, senior program director for the New York City-based nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Coalition. ``If you focus on real concrete fixes to the immediate neighborhood, that begins to reestablish the social fabric that has been torn,'' Traylor said. ``You get a greater sense of community pride, and you bring people out onto streets again.'' Horace Young said that that is happening in the 3100 block of Carter Street. A 68-year-old retiree, he was sitting in front of his home on a recent afternoon.

Until the past month, Young said, he wouldn't have felt comfortable out there. ``There was a bad crack house,'' he said, pointing to a home across the street. As part of the Winton initiative, city officials pressured the landlord to evict the drug-dealing tenants. The landlord is Chase Manhattan Bank, which took possession of the property at 3190 Carter St. in a foreclosure last year. City officials are now asking the bank to sell the property for $20,000 to a nonprofit organization that would sell it to a new homeowner.

Bank May Sell.

The bank is ``seriously considering the offer,'' said a spokeswoman, Charlotte Gilbert-Biro. ``We have no reason to hold on to the property.'' A key component of Winton's initiative is an existing city program that provides a second mortgage of up to $40,000 to a low-income homeowner at a 0 percent interest rate. For every year that the person lives in the home, the city turns one-tenth of the loan into a grant.

William Rohe, director of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said this type of program -- the carrot -- can turn around a neighborhood if it is combined with the increased code enforcement -- the stick.

``If you want to be effective, you have to have landlords participate,'' Rohe said. Andy Parrish is helping achieve Winton's goal of increased home ownership.

He is about to develop his 12th home in West Coconut Grove, including one in the 3100 block of Carter Street that was previously a vacant lot. Parrish has sold the three-bedroom home to a custodian at G. Holmes Braddock High School, who will be paying about $600 a month for her city-backed mortgage.

``No one had bought a home on this street for years,'' said Parrish, who hopes to make at least $5,000 on the $89,900 purchase price. Winton said the sale is important.

``You need comparable sales over the last 18 months to two years so banks will lend money to justify the mortgage,'' he said. Winton is a newcomer to politics. A real estate investor -- he owns a downtown building, among other properties, with several other people -- Winton has taken a ``let's cut the red tape'' approach to his new job. Residents in the West Grove repeatedly praised him when he visited the neighborhood earlier this month.

``We need to reclaim our neighborhoods house by house, street by street,'' Winton said. ``Our message has to be delivered consistently. At some point, the bad guys will give up and go where it's easier to do what they do. We're creating a spiral going up.''

Published in The Miami Herald
by Tyler Bridges

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