“The problem is big. Throwing money at it without a plan won’t work. We need a plan,” said Jordan Thomas, student, and resident of Overtown — a historically black Miami neighborhood.

At least 70 residents, activists, politicians, and researchers met last Thursday evening at the Belafonte Tacolcy community center in Liberty City not only to learn more about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program — established in 2008 to stabilize communities that have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment and to create jobs — but to discuss how they will involve their neighbors in a process of community oversight so NSP funds get invested where and how they are needed.

The event was organized by the Miami Workers Center, and it was the fourth in a series of community forums throughout the county where residents organized to bring jobs, education, housing, and other benefits to their communities.

On Thursday assistants got a summary of the report, “Recovering From the Crisis,” that “represents two months of comprehensive research about how the Neighborhood Stabilization Program has been implemented in Florida’s communities so far and identifies the challenges and best practices associated with the program’s design and implementation.”

Prepared by the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University, the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at FIU, and the Miami Workers Center the report takes a careful look and compares the NSP spending in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami-Dade.

According to the report, Florida had “the third-highest foreclosure rate in the nation in the first quarter of 2010. There were over 153,000 foreclosure filings during the quarter, one in every 57 homes. Miami-Dade County had over 6,000 foreclosure filings alone, up 72% from the same period in 2009.”

“There’s built-in inequality and lack of opportunity for housing, jobs, public transportation in Florida,” said Hashim Benford of the Miami Workers Center. “The recession made unfairness even worse, and opportunity is not random. The foreclosure crisis hit Latino and black communities in Miami-Dade making their already difficult economic situation even harder, so we asked why don’t we follow the money ourselves and see how it gets spent.”

According to the Kirwan/RISEP report, “in 2008 NSP phase one grantees were selected on the basis of statutory objectives and the greatest need formula developed by HUD” in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

A second phase (NSP2) was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by the Obama Administration in February 2009. NSP2 grants were awarded to nonprofits and consortiums of public and/or private nonprofit entities as well as local governments. In Miami-Dade, six nonprofit developers and the City of North Miami make up the NSP consortium.

The report indicates, “Of $541.4 million of NSP1 funding 53.5% of Florida’s funds have been committed, while only 22.3% has been expended. While these totals vary from one local government to another, the significance of this is that all funds must be committed by September of 2010, and expended by March of 2013, or will otherwise be returned to the U.S. Treasury.”

The report also indicates that “moderate and low opportunity areas have received the majority of the investment so far,” but it also states that, “it is difficult to judge the impact of the program on neighborhoods and communities because the sheer size of the problem inhibits the ability of the NSP to have a substantial impact.”

Mathew Martin, the planning specialist at the Kirwan Institute, told the Florida Independent, “One of the major problems for NSP is competing with the private realtor investors who can buy foreclosed properties much more quickly than a publicly funded program.”

The Overtown and Liberty City residents who attended Thursday evening are very familiar with the depth of the current crisis, which encompasses the lack of affordable housing, quality jobs, and adequate education.

Hashim Benford highlighted the fact that almost 20 percent of African-Americans and over 13 percent of Latinos are unemployed while the overall unemployment rate in Florida is about 12 percent.

Residents pointed to jobs as the overall priority to get the economic recovery going. Linda Sippio told TFI, “If people don’t have money they can’t afford to live. People must make money.”

Reginald Munnings, a Power U community activist, said, “I think jobs are important, but education is more important. It’s OK to bring money to the community but if all you can do is sweep the floor, you are stuck in a wage level.”

“We need awareness in the community so people can build and produce,” concluded Munnings.

“Regardless of how the money is spent there must be transparency,” said Yvette Norton of the Miami Workers Center. Other residents insisted on holding politicians accountable.

Residents’ proposals include affordable education, housing rehabilitation, low-cost daycare centers for working parents, moderate loans to support and develop local businesses, and basic rehabilitation of sidewalks and public lighting.

“There are four quadrants for fair recovery: Invest in human capacity, connect people to places, invest in smart development, quality jobs, and green jobs and finally a fair tax system thinking 10, 20, 30 years down the road,” Hashim Benford said.

Jordan Thomas echoed residents’ experience and the report’s findings: “NSP is working for the people, but we need more.”

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