The City and Mr. Jones

Developer Milton Jones confronts Sistrunk's segregation-induced funk

It's a little surreal to drive around the poor black area of Dania Beach with Barbara in her silver Mercedes convertible while viewing the Joneses' dozen or so properties. Buildings as Spartan as the office are scattered around areas that did not experience the economic boom of the 1990s. Geared toward low-to-middle- income residents, they are mostly duplexes or small apartment buildings. The Jones family built Sun Garden, a 24-unit rental property, in 1998.

Jones Development Corp. houses more low-income residents than any group that holds a contract with the Dania Beach Housing Authority; it provides shelter for 60 of the 399 tenants who receive federal rental subsidies, says authority director Rita Brown.

The grounds of the Joneses' properties are tidy. Inside, they aren't fancy -- most units are painted the same cream-beige hybrid as the Jones Development office, with floors that look aged but not yet worn out. And tenants say their apartments are properly maintained. "[Milton] is a wonderful man, and his wife is lovely... the best landlords I ever had," gushes Everline Hamp, age 65, who for six years has lived in a 33-unit building at the corner of SW Fourth Avenue and West Dania Beach Boulevard. She proudly shows off her one-bedroom apartment, which is filled with teddy bears and pictures of grandchildren. She is especially happy about the new air conditioner she recently received, and says the Joneses make repairs in the apartments quickly, "as long as you call and tell them about it."

Francine Mathis sits outside her Dania Beach apartment, flanked by her two 13-year-old daughters, Shaquanda Peterson (left) and Ayanna Smith. Daughter Angel Lee, age 4, sits on her lap.
Joshua Prezant
Francine Mathis sits outside her Dania Beach apartment, flanked by her two 13-year-old daughters, Shaquanda Peterson (left) and Ayanna Smith. Daughter Angel Lee, age 4, sits on her lap.
Barbara Jones works in the same tiny Dania Beach office she and her husband, Milton Jones Jr., started about three decades ago
Joshua Prezant
Barbara Jones works in the same tiny Dania Beach office she and her husband, Milton Jones Jr., started about three decades ago

"My air conditioner broke down twice last month, and both times they had it fixed by the next day," adds Francine Mathis, who with her daughters (Ayanna Smith and Shaquanda Peterson, both age 13, and Angel Lee, age 4) lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a six-unit building on the corner of NW 13th Court and Second Street. "That was really important, because Angel has asthma." Mathis, whose family has lived in the building for two years, says her landlords are strict about rules -- for example, no one can have a party without their permission.

Barbara Jones is in charge of the Dania Beach office; her husband and their son, Sean, run Regal Trace. She and Milton have been partners from the start. Both Barbara and Milton attended Florida A&M University and graduated in 1963 -- he in political science, she in speech and language. After college Milton was inducted into the U.S. Army, training to become an officer. He traveled to Texas and Kentucky, and after two years decided to leave the service.

The couple moved back to their native Florida (Barbara grew up poor in Apalachicola, one of five children raised by her widowed mother). For a year Milton was a teacher in Sebring, instructing students in history, English, and psychology; sponsoring the 11th grade class play; and coaching basketball and football. But the profession didn't pay much, and soon Milton was intrigued by a newspaper ad seeking Aetna insurance agents. Milton set out to Hartford, Connecticut, where the company trained him.

In the mid-'60s, Milton brought his wife and two toddler children back to Dania, where he sold insurance for 11 years. Although he was successful, the family didn't spend money on creature comforts, says daughter Daphne, an assistant Broward County attorney, who also does legal work for the family business.

A few years later, Milton Sr. found a business opportunity when a woman from his church put some property up for sale. The elder Milton Jones and his wife weren't interested, so father attempted to cajole son into buying it. At first Milton Jr. didn't bite, but eventually he relented -- sparking a real estate and development dynasty.

Although the couple earned decent money -- in addition to Milton's income, Barbara taught speech classes in schools -- the couple scrimped. They lived on one income and spent the other to buy properties and pay for private schooling for their children. While their college buddies excitedly bought their first homes in nice developments, the Jones family resided in lower-class neighborhoods. Dr. Dorsey Miller, one of Milton's few close friends and a fellow member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, remembers the Joneses were living in a duplex in Dania when the two men met.

After long days at work, Milton and Barbara put the children to bed and studied, first for their real estate and mortgage brokers' licenses. Barbara also helped Milton study so he could qualify as a contractor, reading ahead and asking him questions. The studying even ate up parts of their weekends, but, Barbara says, "it didn't seem so difficult, looking back on it. It was just a part of our family growing, developing, and moving in the direction we wanted it to."

Milton started building in earnest, first with a partner, then on his own. His biggest projects included Copans Square -- completed in the mid-'70s and made up of 250,000 square feet of industrial and office space, including a satellite county courthouse -- and the Shops at Dillard, built in the late '80s at the corner of 27th Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard, which included a pizzeria, a drug store, and other businesses that had been lacking in that area. Convincing Walgreen Drug Stores to build at Dillard was a major coup -- Jones Development "pursued [the company] for approximately two years," Sean says.

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