Florida public housing tenants win security deposits, allows them to choose desegregated housing

The Metro-Dade County Housing Agency, the public housing authority in the Miami, Florida area, has agreed to provide security deposits to 800 families who are being relocated in order to close Larchmont Gardens, Townpark Gardens, and Musa Isle, three publ ic housing projects in Dade County.

The July settlement resolves a complaint filed with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the Miami-based Florida Justice Institute. In obtaining the security deposits, the Florida Justice Institute allowed Dade County's public housing residents to make a choice between run-down, segregated public housing and well-kept, integrated Section 8 housing.

The complaint was filed after relocation plans for the tenants at the public housing projects were announced. Residents were given the option of either relocating to other public housing units or moving into the more appealing Section 8 program. Most tenants wanted to move into the Section 8 program and many even accepted rent vouchers, but soon they found that landlords who accepted Section 8 vouchers required security deposits, which in Dade County is sometimes as high as $1,000, before tenants could move in.

Executive Director of the Florida Justice Institute, Randy Berg, explained that by closing down the projects and not providing security deposits for Section 8 housing, the Metro-Dade Housing Agency was simply solidifying a cycle of segregation. He said, "Instead of dispersing them into integrated neighborhoods around the county, they're forcing them back into, essentially, ghettos. By not providing them with security deposits, they're not improving their housing opportunities; they're just perpetuating the problem."

According to the Miami Herald, because most of the tenants at Larchmont and Townpark are African-American, this complaint is very similar to a 1987 lawsuit filed by three Black public housing tenants. They claimed that Metro-Dade Housing Agency had a double standard in running its housing system. The suit claims that Blacks were steered to run-down public housing projects while whites and Hispanics were given better-kept Section 8 housing. The suit claimed Blacks were either discouraged from applying for the Section 8 program, or simply not told about it.

The Florida Justice Institute said that its complaint does not contend that the tenants at Musa Isle, who are predominately Hispanic, were treated better than the Black tenants at Larchmont and Townpark. The Institute claims that both Blacks and Hispanics were being denied housing opportunities because they could not move into Section 8 without security deposits.

In addition to paying security deposits for the affected public housing residents, the conciliation agreement approved by HUD also calls for the Metro-Dade County Housing Agency to reissue Section 8 certificates to residents whose vouchers had expired, end eviction proceedings against residents who withheld their rent payments in an attempt to save enough money for a security deposit, and provide moving services to residents moving out of Larchmont, Townpark, and Musa Isle.