The Scott Carver Files: Residents Gather to Memorialize the Past

Alex Biencowe
Miami Times
April 27, 2016

Ten years ago, the Miami Dade Housing Agency tore down 850 public housing units in the James E. Scott & Carver Projects in the hopes of revitalizing the community and creating better housing environments for Liberty City residents through HOPE IV.

Friends and family members of Scott Carver Projects gathered at Gwen Cherry Park's NFL YET Center, Saturday, April 23, to memorialize the past housing project and encourage Northpark at Scott Carver homeowners to come together.

However, they failed to complete new housing units, displaced hundreds of residents and misappropriated thousands of dollars. Without proper planning and documentation of Scott Carver residents, many were left homeless, relocated or in nearby shelters.

Residents demanded one-for-one replacement of homes, access to jobs in the area and the right to return to the new homes -- a promise the city only kept a decade later.

Recently, family members, friends, students and professors from the University of Miami, organizers from the Miami Workers Center and others gathered for a reunion to memorialize the Scott Carver Projects housing tragedy through archived photos, fliers, videos and oral histories. Residents hope the event will raise awareness about similar housing projects in Liberty Square, and will bring Scott Carver homeowners together.

The reunion was held at the NFL YET Center at Gwen Cherry Park on Saturday, April 23. For past resident Yvonne Stratford, the fight to save the community she remembered decades ago ended with saving the last building.

With the help of the Miami Workers Center, residents were able to

declare the remaining Scott Carver building a historic center.

Stratford believes better organization and moving residents in phases would've helped.

“They did not keep records of where these people were going,” Stratford said, noting that she and other volunteers spent days tracking down previous residents through a blackboard-based initiative called “Find Our People.”

According to the Community Justice Project Inc., of the 700 residents on the county's list, about 485 expressed desires to move back but only half of residents qualified.

Residents who were forced out were given vouchers for Section 8 housing, but attorney and community leader, Charles Elsesser, said they came with several strings attached. For many, vouchers had to be presented before they expired; some had to provide deposits for private housing; and others did not qualify due to criminal records.

Elsesser said thanks to new management in the county's housing departments and increased involvement by community members and residents, the new Scott Carver homes -- called Northpark at Scott Carver -- are a success.

“There's got to be constant oversight ... [the county] has no right to expect these people to trust them,” Elsesser said.

Attendees were invited to bring memorabilia from their previous homes to be collected, including drawings of houses and letters. UM plans to present the audio/visual collection of oral histories in their Special Collections Archives, which is open to the public.

Béatrice Skokan, special collections librarian at UM, helped create the archive project to educate residents on proper document care and inspire them to share their stories.

“It's a struggle what they went through,” said Skokan. “And I think it's important for people to have a more well-rounded, comprehensive view of their history,” she said.

Robin Bachin of the UM Office of Civic and Community Engagement (whose team conducted oral history interviews) is involved in other projects around public housing and community development, and has been working intensively on the redevelopment of Liberty Square.

“The developer needs to know the priorities of the community,” she said, adding that the preservation of certain buildings can help keep the community's history intact. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s preferred developer, Related Urban, plans to turn some of the Liberty Square units into a museum.

“Liberty Square is the second oldest housing project in the country so it's very significant historically, not just for Miami but for the country,” Bachin said.

Karen Moore of New Synergies Inc. and a primary organizer of the reunion, believes educating young people on the history of their communities can help prevent future mistakes and can create stronger bonds between residents and city officials.

She also warned that future generations might overlook the history of African-Americans in cities like Miami and the impact of their neighborhoods.

“It's become more important now more than ever that we reflect, that we document, that we memorialize, and that we remember,” Moore said, warning that future generations risk forgetting the impact and existence of significant African-American neighborhoods.

“History is made everyday,” said Moore. “We just want to make sure our history doesn't fall off the table.”

So far, the county has been consistent in helping new residents find their homes and integrate into their newly renovated community, but Elsesser said only time will tell.

He noted the activism in the community has had a positive impact on county officials, but it is up to the county to take action and show community members results.

“We're going to have to monitor very closely,” he said. “The burden is all on them.”

The Public Housing and Community Development Department Director Michael Liu was unavailable for comment.