An estimated 3,000 new homes could improve Pompano Beach’s fortunes, but some community leaders and residents worry an uptick in prices will drive out the Black families who have lived there for generations.
Broward County recently signed off on a plan for the city to accommodate thousands of new homes as part of its future downtown. The aim is to lure a massive makeover across about 272 acres east of Interstate 95 off Atlantic Boulevard, the city’s gateway corridor.
But leaders worry the higher values will displace longtime residents from the predominantly Black community. “You will force those people to not have the ability to live in this area,” said Broward Mayor Dale Holness, noting how the community dates back generations to when Pompano was known for its farmland and when Black immigrants from the Bahamas worked the fields picking beans.
Now, the city finds itself planning to raise the low-income area’s values while avoiding pushing out residents. Other cities have tried doing the same thing across the U.S., but have been marked by success or failure, experts say.
“That’s what development is all about — shifting values,” said Henry-Louis Taylor Jr., a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University at Buffalo who specializes in gentrification. “If you can’t meet that income requirement, then you are going to be forced to go to some other location and place.”
The type of gentrification that forces out low-income residents has been a recurring problem in Black communities across the country, said William Sites, an associate professor in the school of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago who specializes in the issue. That’s in part because their communities’ land values “have been artificially depressed simply because there are African-Americans who live there,” Sites said.
Then new development has the potential to raise land values, which makes it more expensive to live there, Sites said. He said some communities tackle the inevitable with agreements that set aside affordable housing for the locals, or mandates that a certain percentage of the jobs created go to the locals.
“These things can really make a difference,” he said.
Still, there are potential pitfalls. Some residents don’t benefit when neighborhoods are rebuilt: They’re essentially pushed out. They “are living in the same condition in another place,” Taylor said.
Planning an overhaul
The part of Pompano Beach tapped for redevelopment encompasses properties east of I-95, generally framed by Northwest Sixth Street to the north, Northeast Fifth Avenue to the east, Atlantic Boulevard to the south and Northwest 10th Avenue to the west.
The overhaul will eventually include a new City Hall and the city’s downtown, including a hotel, “higher-density” residential projects, shopping and office complexes.
Within that area is the so-called Innovation District, envisioned to have museums, offices, multi-residential homes, restaurants — “anything you find in a downtown,” said Nguyen Tran, the director of Pompano Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
“In any area you can identify where the downtown is,” said Tran, such as Fort Lauderdale off Broward Boulevard or east of Swinton Avenue in Delray Beach. “It’s so important. We don’t have an identified area. Downtowns are so important to cities. They are usually employment centers.”
All around there are nods to the city’s black history, including Martin Luther King Boulevard, the nearby thoroughfare named after the slain civil rights leader. During times of segregation, a stretch of the area situated off railroad tracks was reserved for African-American residents and migrant workers, who were forbidden by law and custom to own land, according to a 2013 city study.
Now, after many years of planning, the redevelopment plans have gained momentum. The county recently signed off on Pompano’s request to allow it to build another 2,000 units in the area, which brings the total allowed to be built to 3,368 single-family homes, townhouses, and multi-family units of apartments or condos, depending on the market. The county had to sign off on a “land-use plan” amendment to make sure city and county visions are compatible, officials said.
The buildings are expected to cap at 10 stories. It also has signed off on another 120 hotel rooms, bringing the total number of rooms to 420.
The county commission voted 7-2 in support of the amended land-use plan. Holness was one of the commissioners who opposed it, also voicing concerns that not enough consulting work for the improvements would go to Black-owned businesses.
After the county signed off on it, the Pompano City Commission gave final approval to the plan just days before Halloween this year. “To create a true transit-oriented corridor, there needs to be much more housing to balance the large amount of office and commercial space planned for ultimate build-out of the downtown,” the city wrote in paperwork.
‘We have to be worried’
The push for changes has left locals concerned the city’s “fix-up” means they won’t be able to stay in their community. Daniel Miller owns an apartment building in the area envisioned for development. He said if values go up, that leads to a bigger property tax bill and he’d have to pass it onto his tenants, likely leaving them unable to afford the cost.
“Most of the people are earning $10-$12 an hour,” he said. “For those essential workers who live in that area, it simply won’t be affordable.”
Mary Phillips, a real estate broker, who lives in the area tapped for redevelopment, said she worries prices “can go up tremendously.”
“It is a concern, especially for our seniors and our young people,” she said. “If we’re not careful, it will displace a lot of people who grew up here.”
Apostle John Mohorne, who leads the Word of the Living God Ministries, said he and other neighborhood pastors are troubled by the plans. “We don’t need taxes to go up and people to lose their homes,” he said. “We’ve got to be concerned about the elders in the community, they won’t be able to afford it.”
A ‘big opportunity’
Pompano Beach says it intends to ensure locals stay in the community. Homes will be set aside for affordable housing and the city will put more “affordable units back in than we ever took out of this area,” Tran said.
“The term ‘gentrification’ is such a negative term, but in redevelopment efforts it happens naturally,” he said.
When family leaders die, and homes get passed on, their heirs often sell the properties anyway, he said. In South Florida, with a rapidly growing population, “development is going to happen regardless and displacement happens naturally as more people come in.
“It’s not all us to blame, but it does happen.”
One example of Pompano Beach’s efforts to keep longtime residents happened around 2014. Several residents were relocated from Jones Quarters when the city took over a multi-family complex on 6 acres just east of Interstate 95.
Jones Quarters was built in the early 1940s by farmer R.V. Jones for his farm workers. The land still was being used for rental housing and was “one of the few tangible reminders within Pompano of the city’s once preeminent role as an agricultural center in Florida,” according to a 2013 study before the 20 buildings were demolished.
Of the 14 families who used to live there — for about $600 a month without air conditioning — most stayed in Pompano Beach, and two families went to Fort Lauderdale, Tran said. He said CRA policy is that if the agency buys property, they must provide moving expenses to relocate families, and assist finding a new home.
He said the families were thrilled with better living arrangements, and they continued to pay about the same amount in rent with the CRA paying any difference in rent for the first year.
“We were told we gentrified them,” Tran said. “No, not really. They stayed local.”
Tran said eventually the land will be used for homes, or perhaps the hotel, maybe offices.
The city’s redevelopment plans will be a “game changer,” with the addition of retail and office space, and homes, said Pompano’s former Mayor Lamar Fisher, now a county commissioner. “It will create a downtown the city has been looking for, for many years,” he said.
County Commissioner Beam Furr, noting the potential for many more jobs, called it “a very big opportunity for Pompano.”
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