County seeks structural solutions to senior center building woes

The South Miami Plaza Senior Center at 6701 SW 62 Avenue provides a peaceful secure living environment for the 90 or so qualified tenants who reside in the facility, as well as a gathering place where 65 and older area residents can come in daily and enjoy a hot meal among the company of their peers.

However the multi-decade old facility opened in 1976 is in need of basic structural repairs and the joint arrangement with the city and county may lead to a temporary relocation of residents. Executive Director of Miami-Dade County Public Housing and Community Development (PHCD) Gregg Fortner visited the center recently and addressed the tenants to allay concerns about possible imminent changes according to long-time tenant and Resident Council President Nestor Saling. “He assured us that we would not be moved out but he did say we might be temporarily relocated a few at a time,” said Saling.

The center is 80 percent PHCD supported (their office is funded by HUD) and 20 percent city funded according to Senior Site Manager of nine years, Ana Larzabal. “The city pays for activities and employees and the county covers the building, utilities, and food,” said Larzabal.

“The building is old and has been in need of repair for a long time now. Things need to get fixed and the county has been here measuring for repairs. If they (tenants) need to be moved out it will be a temporary thing, a few at a time they were informed.”

In addition to the six story structure, the community center where meals are served — daily at 11:30 am — is open from 8am to 3pm to provide activities like jazzercise and art classes. Social Worker Tatiana Pinzon is also on call and serves the needs of tenants as well as area residents. Recent city budget cuts eliminated English, Spanish, and computer classes.

Saling is a quick-witted charismatic 83 year old former businessman born and raised in Argentina. He applied to live at the center in the early 90’s and was admitted in 1995. “Like thousands of others in similar programs I went through the process of applying and seeing if I qualified for low income housing. I am alone, have no family and was about to retire.”

“Since the first day I came here it has been a good relationship. This is the best HUD location because it is near everything, the hospital, police, fire department and Metrorail, it is amazing. Most of our problems have to do with building maintenance and lack of funds.”

Fellow resident since 1990, Clemensia Hernandez agrees. She is a soft spoken yet seemingly independent woman notwithstanding her restricted mobility. “This is a tranquil place and I feel good here. We respect each other here and we look out for each other if there are any problems or emergencies.”

Saling said Fortner’s presentation dispelled rumors of private companies taking over maintenance issues for the county. He said other centers have closed and the possible outsourcing of repair issues is a concern for residents due to federal and county cutbacks.

PHCD Executive Director Fortner was on vacation and unavailable for an interview but his office delivered the following statement:

“Many of our properties are 40 to 70 years old and in dire need of upgrades and deferred maintenance. Adifferent approach is required if we (PHCD) are to meet the current and future needs of our residents. PHCD solicited proposals for developer services to maximize the development potential of over 100 existing public housing sites. Since opportunities for available funding for public/affordable housing is limited and highly competitive it is important that qualified developers be pre-selected for various sites so that we can quickly pursue funding as it becomes available.

Developer selection is the beginning of a long process which includes many meetings with our residents at South Miami Plaza and other sites to provide them with information and potential concepts for development as well as receive their input. Our initial meeting with our residents at South Miami Plaza was held on April 30 2012. Be assured that our residents are our partners in the community and will be an inherent part of the entire process.”

Site Manager Larzabal said the center keeps the seniors alive. “We provide a place to keep them busy so they don’t stay home and get sick and depressed. Some of them didn’t realize that exercise is a good thing or they weren’t eating properly, just canned meals. We take them shopping, offer hot meals and field trips, we give them life.”

To find out more about the South Miami Plaza Senior Center call 305-669-0712.

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