MIAMI — “One of the residents who moved in came to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘Ya’ll are bringing Brickell to Overtown,’ and that touched me.”
Thus said Ola Aluko, president and CEO of the St. John Community Development Corporation (SJCDC), founded in 1985 as a nonprofit organization with the mission of revitalizing the Overtown neighborhood and improving the overall quality of life for Miami-Dade County residents.
Last Thursday, SJCDC introduced the newly renovated, recently opened St. John Apartments, a multi-family complex in the heart of the community at 1300 N.W. Second Ave.
This building is the first in a series of housing projects that SJCDC plans through an $89 million Neighborhood Stabilization Plan award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in which an additional 25 units nearby will be renovated. The project also received $1.3 million in financial support from Miami-Dade County’s HOME and Surtax funds, as well as $520,000 from the City of Miami’s Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency.
The SJCDC was founded by Rev. Henry Nevin and the St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church with the mission of assisting Overtown residents through advocacy, affordable housing, entrepreneurship, homeownership opportunities, job training and health services.
The organization has had success in community improvement such as implementation of the City of Miami’s Commercial Façade program, in which they facilitated the enhancement of 20 commercial projects, as well as provided training and employment opportunities through state funds. SJCDC currently is working on a joint venture with private developers to construct 96 townhomes.
“We are doing good things and we have even greater things to come,” said SJCDC Chairman Nelson Adams. “It’s about carrying out what I call the four “C’s” – competency, commitment, compassion and collaboration,” said Adams. “I am happy about the understanding that our CDC has with the church, with the City of Miami, with our county, state and nation. We are all in this together.”
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, SJCDC members were joined by elected officials such as Rep. Frederica Wilson, Rep. Cynthia Stafford, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, to personally welcome 13 families to their new complex, which is full to capacity.
The complex, originally constructed in 1990 through the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program, sustained significant damage from Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The damage left the complex uninhabitable — and a prime location to receive NSP2 dollars. The SJCDC also worked to ensure that the project met all Section 3 compliance criteria and hired local contractors and laborers.
“This success could not have happened without help from H.U.D, the county and CRA funds, members of our consortium and our St. John board members,” says Aluko. “This CDC was birthed by a religious institution and was created with a strong vision and a strong focus for a better community.”
The Miami-Dade NSP2 Consortium received one of the largest awards in the country because of the area’s need, as well as the diligent research and thorough application submitted by the consortium’s lead agency NHS, said Oliver Gross, C.E.O. of the New Urban Development Inc. “We found that the plight and conditions in Dade County were such that the government recognized the need and we look forward to being able to celebrate the full expenditure of the $89 million dollars.”
Rep. Wilson, an Overtown native, told the audience she was attending the event on the brink of her participation as a surrogate for President Barack Obama at the Florida Baptist Convention in Jacksonville, and was proud to see that the stimulus funds placed in Florida were being positively utilized in the Overtown community.
“So many people were against the administration when the money was sent down to the state and then to the counties,” said Wilson. “So I say to anyone who criticized the president for what he did, I am going to put him in my car and bring him down to Overtown to show him what this stimulus money has done for this community. You can’t help but to be overjoyed when you see what is being done for our wonderful residents.”
Rep. Stafford commended the consortium for successfully working together as a model for other projects. “This is an example of a private/public partnership that works to improve the quality of life in this community. We all want nice, safe, good housing because it improves the quality of life and helps create a better community,” said Stafford. “Overtown is a rich jewel with a rich history in Miami-Dade County. Working together on projects like this will ensure that Overtown will continue to be an area of progress and prosperity and we will continue to protect and preserve the strong legacy of this community because we want the world to know Overtown is our pride and joy.”
To conclude the ceremony, Aluko introduced the audience to some of the tenants who have moved into the complex. Linda Tolliver expressed her appreciation and excitement in moving into her new apartment with family members after previously living in harsh conditions.
“I hope you continue to rebuild Overtown because there are a lot of families around here who need help and want to live in a place like this,” said Tolliver. “I wish all of Overtown could look like this and I thank you for taking the time out to show that you care and that you haven’t forgotten about us.”
Photo: Ola Aluko