The City and Mr. Jones

Developer Milton Jones confronts Sistrunk's segregation-induced funk

But there were also setbacks. Barbara says Jones Development didn't win the contract for the first black-owned convention hotel in Miami Beach in the mid-'90s because the family was unwilling to invest the amount demanded by city officials. (The Joneses had offered to build a Doubletree all-suites hotel; Miami developer R. Donahue Peebles ultimately built the Crowne Plaza in 1998.) Jones Development won a bid to build a low-income housing complex in Hallandale, then lost it in 1998 when another company offered to invest one million dollars more. Black residents claimed racism at the time for the city commission's change of heart. (Such a move is rare after a bid has been awarded.)

Anti-black sentiment has occasionally cropped up during Milton's career. "I would always go out and do my homework. I always knew what other contractors were doing," he says. "If they gave developer A, who happened to be white, $10,000 and gave me only $7000 to $8000, I'd say, "Wait a minute!' I'd point out to them that the bricks and sticks cost the same for both projects."

Milton Jones oversees a construction site for a single-family home in Dania Beach
Joshua Prezant
Milton Jones oversees a construction site for a single-family home in Dania Beach

Terena Jackson's first-floor apartment in Regal Trace houses her family of four. Tile covers the floor near the doorway, and the entranceway melds into the living/dining room. A sliding glass door to the right leads to a small patio. To the left is the kitchen, which includes blond-wood kitchen cabinets, a large refrigerator, and a full-size stove. There's an off-white couch and matching plaster sculpture in the living room and a bicycle parked in the dining area. A narrow hallway leads to a bedroom, bathroom, and modest master suite.

Jackson, who has driven a school bus for the last 11 years, stands tall and proud as she scrubs dishes. It's been a long day for her. Since leaving work she's had to care for her two daughters, ages 7 and 12, as well as a niece. Two of the girls play in the living room as Jackson -- her hair slightly askew, white blouse rumpled, and matching gold earrings and bracelets gleaming in the twilight -- talks about the advantages and disadvantages of living in the place Milton Jones built and now manages.

Right now the disadvantages have gotten to her. "It used to be so beautiful the first two years," says Jackson, whose family has lived in Regal Trace six years. "Now you have to wait a week to get the maintenance people to come out," even when her toilet occasionally backs up. She says she and other first-floor residents often put up with flooding. "It's real bad when you're in your own house, and it smells like mold, and you have to walk around like this," she says, pantomiming stepping around puddles, "and it takes them so long to come and clean it up." On top of that, she says, management has never shampooed the blue, well-worn carpeting.

But it's not all bad, Jackson admits. The air conditioning and appliances always work. And she says the 24-hour security, along with the iron fence that surrounds the property, has meant no apartment burglaries, though cars are sometimes broken into. If there's a problem, police come as soon as you call, she adds.

And then there's the rent. "I have to say, I haven't seen apartments like this that are cheaper than here," Jackson says. Her family pays $688 for their two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit. Jackson used to live in a duplex in Lauderhill. She moved in with her mother when money got tight; after a few months the Jacksons moved into Regal Trace. "It was real nice," she recalls. "That's why we moved here."

Other families thought the same thing. Demosthene Pere Fils, his wife, Rose, and their eight-year-old son, Marvin, have lived in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for three years. Before that they rented a house on NW Fifth Avenue. "This place is nice. The street we lived on, well, it wasn't so nice," Marvin says, wrinkling his nose at the memory. Because the family, who immigrated from Haiti eight years ago, lives on the second floor, they don't have problems with flooding. They say maintenance problems get repaired in a timely fashion. The vaulted ceilings add space to the living room, which is crammed to the hilt with black velour sofas and a giant, black-lacquered curio cabinet. Pigeon peas and rice bubble heartily on the stove. When it gets too hot, the air conditioning kicks in quickly.

Marvin's father does yard work for a living; his mother is a seamstress. They can afford their monthly rent of $643. And they like having other Haitians as neighbors, like Jean Michel, who says he has no problems with the $550 per month one-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife, Mary, and their two-year-old daughter, Elsie.

The apartment complex is part of Fort Lauderdale's long-term attempt at revitalization, begun in the late 1970s when the city realized desegregation, which allowed blacks to move to the western suburbs, had an unexpected effect: The decline of inner-city black communities. Officials started purchasing land in the early 1980s for three phases of redevelopment. Over the years they moved some 1500 residents out of the area northwest of downtown and bulldozed the decaying houses. They planned a large housing complex, which became Regal Trace, and a nearby shopping center as Phase II and Phase III, respectively. (Overall the city has paid out almost $57 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money since 1975, most of it in the Sistrunk area, to improve everything from streets to individual homes and businesses.)

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