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Fort Lauderdale mayor accused of “sell out” as public housing battle heats up

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Jack Seiler

Jack Seiler

Yet another Fort Lauderdale neighborhood is fighting City Hall over plans for unwanted new development – and has taken the additional step of hauling the city into court to try and stop it.

In court papers, the not-for-profit Trust for Historic Sailboat Bend claims the fix was in when the city commission voted 5-0 in March to bulldoze and replace the Dr. Kennedy Homes public housing development. The vote, after a lengthy public hearing, reversed the city Historic Preservation Board’s 2009 decision to deny demolition.

Now, trust officials say they have proof the city intended all along to approve the demolition: a letter Mayor Jack Seiler wrote last September expressing the city’s “support” for the demolition and offering his “best wishes for the success” of the controversial replacement housing project.

“The mayor had his mind made up before the evidence was heard,” said Trust Vice President Charles Jordan. “The quasi-judicial hearing over which he presided was a charade.”

Some established neighborhoods would be eager to get rid of old, substandard public housing occupied by the poor. But in eclectic Sailboat Bend, critics of the housing authority’s plans argue that demolition will destroy an important part of city’s history, displace some of its neediest citizens and install development that is too big and out of character for the city’s only officially designated historic district.

 “This is a reverse NIMBY,” said Jordan, using the “Not In My Back Yard” acronym. “This is in our backyard and an integral part of our community. We want it preserved.”

Instead of eight gleaming new buildings up to five stories tall, the opponents want the existing 132 units completely renovated with the same new amenities, like air conditioning.

Using Seiler’s letter as Exhibit A, trust leaders Paul Boggess and Donna Isaacs last week accused the mayor of selling out Sailboat Bend in an email sent to friends.

In an interview, however, Seiler denied prejudging the case. He said his Sept. 14 letter to Tam English, executive director of the city Housing Authority, was for the specific purpose of supporting the authority’s project application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Seiler added that he knew of no opposition to the authority’s plans when he signed it.

“It is like a judge making a comment 10 years ago that he likes to protect dogs. Now, the judge is hearing a dog abuse case and people say he prejudged the case because 10 years ago he said he liked to protect dogs,” Seiler said.

Wrecking Crews on Hold

City wrecking crews are on hold as the court ponders the trust’s allegations in two related lawsuits filed in March and May that the commission’s vote violated both the city code and constitutional due process requirements. The due process violations involve alleged lobbying violations, and failures by commissioners to make adequate disclosure about the lobbying.

The city denied those allegations last month in a response filed in Broward Circuit Court.

Other Fort Lauderdale neighborhood groups have been at odds with the city this summer.

Idlewyld residents are resisting plans for a massive remake of Bahia Mar. Colee Hammock homeowners are looking to overturn the zoning board’s July approval of First Presbyterian Church’s expansion plans. And in Coral Ridge, neighbors are pushing the city to deny permission to Cardinal Gibbons High School to light up its football field.

The city housing authority, whose board is appointed by the mayor, owns and manages seven public housing sites and 612 units in the city. It is an independent agency, mostly funded by HUD, created under Florida law, according to City Attorney Harry Stewart.

Dr. Kennedy Homes is one of those public housing sites. Built in the early 1940s, the Dr. Kennedy homes is located on 8.5 acres in Sailboat Bend that front Broward Boulevard between Ninth and 11th Avenues, south to Southwest Second Street. Its 132 units, many with porches, are occupied by those with very low incomes.

“The Dr. Kennedy Homes in their original intent and their use today helps tell the story of Fort Lauderdale,” Merrilyn C. Rathbun, of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society told the city in March.

City housing officials, however, contend the units no longer meet proper living standards, and want to raze 42 of those one- and two-story cottages and replace them with eight modern, air conditioned buildings up to five stories tall.  Three existing cottages would be rehabilitated and preserved. The total number of housing units will remain the same.

The proposed $25 million development is a public-private partnership between the housing authority and Miami’s Carlisle Development Group. Carlisle was chosen by the authority after a competitive bid process, according to executive director English.

‘A better place to live’

The project is to be financed mostly with federal tax credits. It would provide affordable housing for the low income – $47,500 a year for a family of four. Fewer units would be available for the very poor.

“At the end of the day, it’s a better place to live for our residents,” housing authority lawyer Robert Lochrie told commissioners, according to a transcript of the March 2 hearing.

The 100-member Sailboat Bend Civic Association isn’t a party to the lawsuit, but President David Parker and Vice President Alysa Plummer support its objective to quash the commission’s vote.

“We support the saving of Dr. Kennedy Homes. The housing authority wants to blow out an 8.5 acre hole in the middle of our historic district,” said Plummer.

English, however, says those agitating against building a new Dr. Kennedy Homes with updates like air conditioning and washing machines are a tiny fraction of the approximately 600 people who live in Sailboat Bend.

“A silent majority supports what we are doing, yes,” said English. “A lot of people want to see change, but they aren’t the kind of people willing to go out on a limb and stand up and scream.”

Residents who appeared at the March hearing generally favored the upgrade plans after hearing assurances that they will be given priority to return to the new Dr. Kennedy Homes and won’t see their out-of-pocket rent go up.

But attorney Janet Riley, who heads Broward Legal Aid Service’s affordable housing advocacy project, said vulnerable residents have been misled by the authority about the future cost of rent, and whether they will be able to return after the place is rebuilt.

“This is last resort housing. People pay 30 percent of their income, and if they lose that where are they going to go?” said Riley.

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  • Our elected officials are acting in a manner that has never been seen before. How could the Mayor be so bold and arrogant to send a letter in support of the demolition of these homes before the case is heard by the commission especially knowing the HPB voted against demolition? I don’t care what his personal opinion is, he has no right to express City Wide support as MAyor before he ever hears the case. Maybe this is exactly why we have so many neighborhoods fighting city hall! Should we expect this Mayor will always support projects before hearing the case as long as he hears no opposition? I can’t wait to hear what he says about the Lights at Cardinal Gibbons or the PUD’s at Bahia Mar and FPC, or better yet I guess he does not need public input because he has probably already taken a position…What is it Mayor Seiler?

  • Are these people crazy?? Did Elvis sleep here??. Who would want to have your kids playing on your front porch – just a few feet from the bus stop on a seven lane road? These aren’t NIMBY’s they are BANANA’S – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Next to Anything,

  • I think Ft. Ldle housing authority operates over 1000 public housing units.
    What is the ever-growing Ft. Ldle government doing managing over 1000 units?
    Why can’t the private sector do that; and with much cheaper expenses?
    Mayor Seiler and Commissioner Rogers campaigned 18 months ago on protecting residential neighborhoods and making local government more efficient and receptive to neighborhood imput. They are AWOL.
    So far our annual City budget has gone from $604 million dollars to $611 million. Why can’t the politicians reduce government expenses, just like the rest of us poor slobs?
    When do they plan to do what they promised? When they start campaigning again for relection next summer? Too late for some tax-paying neighborhoods.
    Everywhere HUD and public housing is built over two stories, they usually get torn down within the decade.They get trashed.
    Example: St. Louis and Chicago public housing.
    Remodel the existing units for a third of the $25 million price. Don’t the politicians know that their kids are $13 TRILLION in debt? This is when we should brag about how we cut expenses, not how we grow government.
    Is it too much to ask our elected officials, who campaigned on cleaning up City Hall, to at least come out in the media and proclaim that they will do whatever it takes to protect our beseiged residential neighborhoods from unwanted development?
    Do the politicians still work for us, like they used to say; or are they back working with their special interests buddies?
    If they do not get it that we are fed up, it is time for a referendum to cap our annual City budget at $500 million.
    We must also get Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 passed so the voters can vote on changing zoning on big projects.
    It is very disturbing when elected lawyers keep getting the City into more lawsuits. Listen to the neighborhoods, follow the existing zoning, and stay out of costly litigation. We cannot afford their costly decisions anymore.

  • Jerry,

    The city is losing public housing units not increasing units. The properties are Historic. A neighborhood that has a Historic District wants to save some History and preserve a large portion of that district. I think you can relate to that, Right? This is another example of Mayoral Deaf Ear Syndrome at best.

  • “The project is to be financed mostly with federal tax credits. It would provide affordable housing for the low income – $47,500 a year for a family of four. Fewer units would be available for the very poor.”

    A family of four with $47,500 in annual income qualifies for subsidized housing?

  • This is just like the Commissioner Rogers being bought out by First Pres Church. Seiler probably has tool Commissioners are fine with a basketball gymnasium in an historic neighborhood like Colee Hammock. They have made their mind up before they have heard the presentation. It’s disgusting that they can be bought out with campaign contributions and pressure from developers. We need some honest Commissioners. Rodstrom is doing a great job.

  • How did Mayor Seiler sell out these residents? I was at that Commission meeting alot (majority) of the residents that live in the Kennedy homes were in favor of demolishing the complex judging by the people that spoke that night. Those that are not in favor of demolishing this complex I say to you,you live there for a while and then make your call. They need to demolish that complex. When the new apartments are built they wil have nice kitchens,dishwashers etc. These Historic big wigs will go to what ever length to stall any form of development. I can go along w/ them to a degree with projects going on down on the beach but again this situation where these residents are living in such poor living conditions the sooner they start demolishing the better.

  • Dear Mayor Seiler:

    We read the article by Dan Christensen in BrowardBulldog.org and the Sun-Sentinel with great interest in how you handle your quasi-judicial responsibilities as Mayor, specifically regarding your letter of September 14, 2009 (attached). Your flippant response to what we view as a serious violation of due process requires that we set the record straight.

    Here are the facts and the questions they raise:

    Your quote: “It is like a judge making a comment 10 years ago that he likes to protect dogs. Now, the judge is hearing a dog abuse case and people say he prejudged the case because 10 years ago he said he liked to protect dogs,” Seiler said. Your analogy misses the mark by ten years.

    In the Dr. Kennedy Homes case, no one is saying that you said something ten years ago, in general, about being against historic preservation or against public housing for very low income families and therefore cannot be an impartial panelist in a quasi-judicial process.

    In fact, you wrote a letter of support for a specific project, the Dr. Kennedy Homes, on the first day of public hearings to decide whether the City of Fort Lauderdale would support the project. You didn’t do that as Jack Seiler, private citizen; you did that as Mayor “On behalf of the City of Fort Lauderdale” (your words) on City of Fort Lauderdale letterhead (see attached).

    You stated that the letter ‘was for the specific purpose of supporting the authority’s project application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’ (words attributed to you in the attached article). On whose authority was this letter sent? Was there a City Commission vote on the matter? It would seem that such a blatant and willful misrepresentation of the status of the project would be well beyond your power as Mayor under the City Charter. It raises many questions as to the entire public process:

    · How did you know on September 14, 2009 that at least two other City Commissioners would eventually go along with you on March 2, 2010?

    · Are there financial beneficiaries of your premature letter of support?

    · Who in the private sector financially benefits from the privatization of our public housing in the City of Fort Lauderdale?

    · Is it good public policy, in difficult economic times, to reduce the number of public housing units available to very low income families from over 100 units to only 14 units at the Dr. Kennedy Homes?

    · Is the City of Fort Lauderdale giving up the mission of public housing? The City’s Comprehensive Plan indicates a loss of 184 public housing units between 1987 and 2007 – and this doesn’t even count the subsequent loss of Dixie Courts and the proposed loss of the Dr. Kennedy Homes.

    · Was the letter used to induce HUD to support the project, without full public input into the required Section 106 review, by representing that there was widespread support of the community when in fact there was opposition to the project?

    · With major federal government tax credits at stake, why didn’t you pause to consider the legal processes of approval and the fact that you are the member of a five member commission that is the last stop in the quasi-judicial process before heading to circuit court?

    · Why didn’t you disclose the letter, or the communications that led to the letter, at the public hearing for the Historic Preservation Board appeal on December 1, 2009 or at the de novo public hearing on March 2, 2010?

    You also are quoted as saying you knew of no opposition to the authority’s plans. This was news to many of us in the Sailboat Bend Historic District. The opposition dates back to meetings held as far back as 2006 and has been in the public record at least since 2008. The Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority was well aware of the opposition. Why weren’t you?

    The project had already been through two public hearings regarding the plat approval dating from 2008. There was even a hearing, approving the plat, before the City Commission on February 17, 2009 between your election and your inauguration as Mayor; Sailboat Bend representatives were there to object to a plat that contemplated demolition of such a large portion of the historic district, as they had twice done before the Planning and Zoning Board. There was even opposition to the plat by members of the P & Z Board as evidenced by their split vote to approve.

    How elected and appointed officials handle their quasi-judicial responsibilities demonstrates whether it is possible to have fair and impartial public hearing in the City of Fort Lauderdale, regardless of whether the applicants are politically well connected or not. That is true, whether the issue is Dr. Kennedy Homes, the First Presbyterian Church PUD, Bahia Mar PUD or any other project of major impact on our established neighborhoods.

    It is our hope that the City of Fort Lauderdale will govern according to its code and apply the same set of rules for all property owners – and hear all of the evidence before ruling.

    Sincerely,

    TRUST FOR HISTORIC SAILBOAT BEND, INC.

    Charles M. Jordan

    Vice President

    Attachments

    Charles M. Jordan

    Vice President

    TRUST FOR HISTORIC SAILBOAT BEND, INC.

    Post Office Box 1776

    Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33302-1776

  • What comes around goes around. In lite of all the rest of the issues going on in this City seems trival. Yes Mayor Seiler showed poor judgement in endorsing the Keenedy Housing Project before it came before the Commission,however with these apartments in shambles this project must go forward. The real proplem with Mayor Seiler which I have been observing is his attitude to the City Staff, its like rush,rush,rush to still be sitting at these Commission meetings to 3am. Nothing personel in regards to the Mayor and I’m not going to go down that route to smear him,I stick to the issues and call it like I see it and more importantly how the mayority of the residents(voters) call it also…

  • I’d say I completely understand Jack Seiler, but unfortunately, I don’t speak vodka.

    Chaz Stevens, Commissioner
    MyActsOfSedition.com

  • To Chaz Stevens-where did you come from? You sound like Earl (Bo-Bo Justice) Rynerson. With the name calling and insults. First of all Mayor Seiler politics aside is a good man. Great Lawyer(and this comes from his collegues). I don’t know about the Vodka dig but he is no drunk.(please I been around enough of them enough said).Your remarks about him are off point. Alot of your digs again remind me of Mr. Rynerson who spent over 100 thou to run and lost. Yes Mayor Seiler should not have endorsed the Kennedy Project before it came before a Commission vote but alot of this is the Historic Comm. in Sailboat bend just don’t want this project to go forward, they want to show there muscle (mr.Jordan).We are going through the same thing w/ the Shippe House(name the street after him). Chaz nothing personal but Rynerson spews insults(states City Staff over paid incompentent etc)I know some of you will say look at ypur spews w/ Keechl apples/oranges I don’t see Seiler or Rodstom(charlotte) paying there sweethearts 3500.00 a month for a room in there home.Settled. All my remarks although very direct are starting to resonate w/ the residents(voters). Stay tuned enough is enough-Be nice Chaz…

  • I’m a new subscriber to Florida Bulldog and although the pending fate of Sailboat Bend and the Dr. Kennedy Homes appears to be almost 10 years old, nonetheless, it was one of the categories in today’s Florida Bulldog post, (today is Feb 20, 2019). I’m interested in finding out what the outcome was. Did those historic properties survive the wrecking ball or did the greedy politicians and developers, (and the Banks, of course), ultimately get to line their pockets again by destroying Fort Lauderdale’s history in the name of “progress”? I have a reason for asking….I have recently uncovered evidence, (through my litigation research) that prior to 2010, at least one Broward County Circuit Court judge, (still serving on the bench), may have been directly or indirectly involved. I don’t want to say anymore until I have all the facts of record, but if my suspicions prove correct, the Sailboat Bend matter could be just the tip of a political and judicial iceberg that has been “floating around” in Fort Lauderdale for a very long time! I hope that someone with factual information will respond to this post. I have no problem naming names if the situation calls for it! I await a response…

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