everett-stewart-sr_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Everett Stewart Sr. moved in 1955 to Brownsville, an area he describes as “still always quiet and filled with mostly retired educators who were here from way back.”

Blacks began to locate to the unincorporated Miami-Dade neighborhood in the early ’40s when Brownsville was mostly farmland and dirt roads, he recalls.

“My mother bought our home, the one I still live in, in 1960. This was a special area back then. Now it’s the last prime property in black Miami,” said Stewart, 76, president of the Brownsville Neighborhood Civic Association.

But, in recent years, the nearly 14,000 people who live in the neighborhood are experiencing hardships. Nearly 31 percent of families live below the poverty line and several homes are abandoned.

Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida (NHSSF), saying it wants to revitalize the historic community, is seeking to purchase and refurbish 10 homes. Construction on the first, a three-bedroom one-bath single family at 3150 NW 50th St. is already underway.

“This is our first home in the core of Brownsville,” Benji Power, NHSSF neighborhood revitalization planner, said during a June 9 walking tour of the area. “We are in the process of searching for the other nine. The idea is to stabilize the community.”

Those homes will be restored to “day zero” condition, Powers said. “The roof, for example, will not be in need of repair for years. If the house does not have impact windows, we install them. New wiring, appliances, plumbing … whatever is needed is done.”

The homes are being purchased at 99 percent of appraised value, Power said. By law, after completion, the homes may not be placed on the market for more than its then appraised value or construction costs.

“The empty homes are purchased by investors and rented out or broken in and later boarded up,” Power said. “The neighborhood should decide what Brownsville looks like.”

The tour was a part of NeighborhoosWorks Week, during which NHSSF sought to raise awareness of the needs of Brownsville through a series of events focused on neighborhood change.

The project is funded through an $89 million federal stimulus grant package, according to NHSSF community initiatives coordinator Kamalah Fletcher. The money is in a pool with NHSSF’s partnering organizations: the Urban League of Greater Miami, the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, Carrfour Supportive Housing, Little Haiti Housing Association, Saint John Community Development Corporation, and the city of North Miami.

Founded in 1978, NHSSF is a local nonprofit organization that says its mission is to turn housing dreams into reality by providing affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

“The properties here have a lot of potential; all the homes have a certain character. People are moving in and keeping up with their homes,” said Brownsville resident Isabella Rosete, who located to Brownsville about five years ago in search of a home she could afford.

Change she said, “is happening but it’s not dramatic. People need to feel proud of older neighborhoods; they are very valuable in maintaining history and culture.”

Neighborhood leader Stewart said change has indeed taken place. “Many of the original residents are still here, although the young people, it seems, move away. Now we have some empty homes,” he said.

But he said home prices are too high and he is happy that NHSSF is working with the neighborhood.
“This is good because we won’t allow anyone to price us out of the area,” Stewart said.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net