City Displaced

A new West Palm shopping mecca is attracting some folks downtown. Others will have to leave.

Fort Lauderdale has been plagued by a similar problem. The city spent millions building the Las Olas Riverfront while largely ignoring poor areas three blocks away. There's been a high turnover among the stores and restaurants in the year-old entertainment complex, and petty crime in the area is undoubtedly a factor, Kolo says.

In both cases things may have turned out differently if planners had allowed residents to participate in decisions that affected their neighborhoods, Kolo believes. Likewise West Palm Beach's plan to displace residents without providing reasonable relocation options is likely to backfire. "When you see low-income houses sitting next to a huge new development, you know there was some kind of lapse in policy," Kolo remarks. "Some may call it policy hypocrisy."

During negotiations with CityPlace developers, city leaders might have asked for help in job training and building low-income housing elsewhere in the city. That's been done in other cities. But in West Palm 80 percent of property tax revenues generated by the development will go toward paying off a $55 million bond issue the city floated to help make the development possible. And while leaders also put taxpayers at risk by subsidizing the $550 million development with loan guarantees, now they seem unwilling to subsidize new low-income housing.

CityPlace: nouveau old
Joshua Prezant
CityPlace: nouveau old

Thanks to ballooning property values, residents' options are dwindling. Homes in the neighborhood on the south side of Okeechobee Boulevard that five years ago sold for $43,000 now command $120,000 or more. Rents have risen at the same rate. While there are certainly benefits to such a transformation, they aren't shared by everyone.

A more likely option for residents displaced by CityPlace is a neighborhood about a half-mile north, off Tamarind Avenue. The long-blighted area is best known for drugs, decay, and drive-by shootings. To show they weren't oblivious to the needs of the poor, city commissioners recently obtained federal and state grants to raze several blocks and build a new housing development. City planners are also trying to convince developers to build on vacant lots.

To Mike Williams and other long-time residents of the area near CityPlace, the message is clear. City officials care more about consumers and pretty buildings than working stiffs. He has listened to city officials rail about drug use downtown and then watched them stock Clematis Street with bars. He's heard leaders complain about juvenile crime then take away the few teen entertainment options available downtown. And he's observed demolition of old homes only to see government-backed landlords charge $700 per month rent to people who barely make minimum wage. "They've taken away my neighborhood, and they've taken away my downtown," Mike Williams says. "I'm not against the city, but I am against what they seem to stand for. The world is going to hell."

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