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Alonzo Mourning’s affordable apartments a symbol of new hope

A ribbon cutting takes place during the grand opening of Courtside Apartments on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016 in Miami. The affordable housing complex is at 1699 NW Fourth Ave. in the historic Overtown community. This project is the result of a joint venture between Housing Trust Group, one of the largest developers of affordable housing in Florida, and NBA legend and AM Affordable Housing, Inc. Director Alonzo Mourning, center in photo. With Mourning are: Clarence E. Woods III, executive director SEOPW Community Redevelopment Agency, left, Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez, Housing Trust Group Chairman and founder Randy Rieger Sr., Miami City Commission Chairman and SEOPW CRA Chairman Keon Hardemon, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giminez, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, Miami City Commissioner Wilfredo "Willy" Gort, and Housing Trust Group President and CEO Matthew Rieger Jr.

Alonzo Mourning is used to a workout, but he didn’t think his latest victory would take nine years.

“I believed in this and I knew this community needed it more than ever,” said Mourning, as Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other government, civic and business leaders came together Friday to celebrate the grand opening of Courtside Apartments. It’s a $22.8 million affordable housing complex in Overtown developed by Miami’s Housing Trust Group and the former Miami Heat star’s nonprofit, AM Affordable Housing.

Miami’s Overtown community has seen its share of false hopes and dashed dreams, said Mourning, a former foster child who became an NBA Hall of Famer and helped found the Overtown Youth Center in 2003. “Hope lived here many years ago … but as the community faded over the years, so did hope. But hope has found new life by way of the Overtown Youth Center and the brand new apartments and the leadership in this community. Hope will continue to grow … and will usher in prosperity, pride, possibility and promise .”

Resident Eric Garland spent 18 months looking for a suitable three-bedroom apartment home for his family of six before choosing a unit in the new 84-unit residential community at 1699 NW Fourth Ave. He liked the location, positioned near the Culmer Center, a school, a church and a park, and also the spaciousness and amenities of the building. Those include a large club room, a media lounge, computer lab, gym and, of course, an Alonzo Mourning basketball court.

Indeed, public spaces are stylishly designed and furnished, the walls adorned with art. Courtside’s one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are already fully leased, all of them reserved for residents making an annual income of no more than 60 percent of area median income, which ranges from no more than $29,820 for a one-person household to $49,440 for a six-person household. Courtside’s monthly rents range from $760 to $990.

The development includes four live-work units for families with home-based businesses. Families will begin moving in this weekend, and there’s a 400-person waiting list.

Miami-Dade faces a dire shortage of affordable rentals. The county has the greatest share of low-income households in the state, according to new statistics, and it’s one of the country’s least affordable housing markets.

Government leaders are considering several proposals, including the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. But even with federal resources, there is no way to meet the demand for affordable housing, said Matthew Rieger, president and CEO of developer Housing Trust Group (HTG), which specializes in affordable housing. “It’s on us as a community to figure out a way to get developments done.”

County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson remembers her first meeting with Mourning. “He came to me with his big idea, and to me it was a really big idea because he wanted to build on county-owned land. He asked me, ‘How can I help him get this done?’ ’’

After a unanimous vote of the county commission, Mourning’s nonprofit signed a 65-year ground lease for four acres at the county-owned Culmer Center property in 2008. After a competitive bidding process, AM Affordable Housing selected Housing Trust Group as the developer-partner.

The recession slowed the project considerably, but HTG secured financing in 2014 through a variety of public-private sources, and broke ground in July 2015; 113 neighborhood residents were hired for the construction, Rieger said.

Friday brought the long-awaited celebration. “What we are witnessing today is the renaissance of Overtown,” Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon said.

“It takes a team of people … coming together to make this happen. This feels like a post-championship press conference,” Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez said. “I am already thinking about Phase 2.”

HTG and Mourning’s team plans a second phase of development at Courtside that will focus on seniors and a third phase that will target populations with special needs, such as formerly homeless veterans and foster care youth who have aged out of the system, said Rieger. “This truly has been a labor of love, a lot of risk, a lot of heart, a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

HTG has five affordable housing communities under construction in Florida including the 73-unit Wagner Creek in Miami. Others on the runway include Princeton Park, a 150-unit affordable housing development in South Miami-Dade.

“I’m a strong believer it takes a team effort … and we have to become the change we want to see,” Mourning said. “For good things to happen you have to surround yourself with good people.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg


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