russell-benford_web.jpgNORTH MIAMI-DADE  — Two years after demolition began on a rundown housing project on the south of Opa-locka, government officials joined developers and residents for the official opening of a new complex on Valentine’s Day seen as the culmination of a labor of love.

Kings Terrace and its 15 modern buildings, 13 of them residencies for  around 300 families, rose on the site of the former Westview Terrace Apartments, spread over 15 acres, at 12555 N.W. 27th Ave. in unincorporated north Miami-Dade.

Russell Benford, deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County, and Jean Monestime, a county commissioner, joined partners from the Pinnacle Housing Group for the grand opening.

David Deutch, an official with Pinnacle Housing, said demolition of Westview started February 2011 and was finished by June that year. 

By that October, ground was broken for what would become Kings Terrace. Residents began moving in by late summer of 2012 and, Deutch said, the final certificate of occupancy came last December. Staff members at Kings Terrace said that the last person to move in arrived on New Year’s Eve.

Tenants will pay $718 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, $843 for a two-bedroom apartment, $953 for a three-bedroom apartment and $1031 for a four-bedroom apartment. Mitchell Friedman, of Pinnacle Housing, called the old Westview Terrace Apartments “a typical urban slum,” filled with what Barry Krinsky of Citibank said were “crime, drug-dealing” and homicides.

Krinsky said that as conditions worsened at Westview Terrace, Miami-Dade County “took action” in 2009.

Friedman talked about the initial stages of that process.  “Why can’t you renovate?” was a question he said was posed at first.  Ultimately, Friedman said, it was decided “to make a statement.” Westview Terrace Apartments would be “torn down and a new community would be built.”

Still, for all the crime and danger at Westview Terrace, 274 families lived there. Where would they go?  “We spent an enormous amount of time planning,” said Deutch, who, along with Benford and Friedman, spoke about the unique process required for any relocation related to a project using federal dollars, such as Kings Terrace.

The Uniform Relocation Act of 1970 outlines guidelines and requirements for what the Department of Housing and Urban Development refers to “residential displacements.”

The requirements include  that “displaced tenants” must receive relocation advice, a minimum three-month documented notice of displacement, reimbursement of moving costs and “payments for the added cost of renting or purchasing comparable replacement housing.”  That would cost the developers about $2.5 million.

The developers said just about a dozen Westview Terrace families returned to the new complex.
Louis Wolfson III, another partner in Pinnacle Housing, called Kings Terrace “magnificent affordable housing.” 

With features such as hurricane-proof windows, refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves and microwaves in every apartment and vaulted ceilings to keep air-conditioning costs down, the cost of living at Kings Terrace is low by Miami standards– a four-bedroom apartment currently rents for just over $1,000 monthly.

Plans are also in the works for a mural painting project that would allow residents’ children to work with professional artists to add extra aesthetic qualities to the complex. 

Wolfson said that participating children will be paid $8 an hour and will gain experience in creating “art in public places.”
The project cost some $50 million and it was financed by what Friedman called the “most trying financial gymnastics.”

Deutch said that $12 million came from Citibank via a loan with the Federal Mortgage Corporation, Wells Fargo purchased $16.8 million worth of low-income housing tax credits, and Miami-Dade County provided $17 million of Neighborhood Stabilization Project funds it received from HUD a few years ago. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation pitched in with another $5 million.  Deutch said because Miami-Dade’s share of the money came from "stimulus dollars and not from tax dollars or general revenue,” Kings Terrace has not hurt the county’s budget.

Against the backdrop of a new community recreation center in the heart of the complex, Monestime and others hailed what Pinnacle’s Michael Wohl called “the best example of… cooperation” by the public and private sectors.

Christel Hamilton is pleased with the fruits of that cooperation, for now, and is happy to be in her new home. Born and raised in West Coconut Grove, she spent three years living in Cutler Ridge in South Miami-Dade County, where she “wasn’t happy with the crime,” and  moved to Kings Terrace last year.

While expressing patience with her new landlord, she wants to see a sustained effort to keep everything in great shape, including from residents. 

The future for Kings Terrace is bright “if they get the tenants involved,” she said.