Column: Pride Center Needs to Come Out of the Closet…

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Senate Republicans are not the only ones operating behind closed doors these days. Here in Wilton Manors, Pride Center CEO Robert Boo and his self-appointed board also like doing business back in the closet, away from watchful eyes of the community.

So, what’s the big secret? Why all the hush hush? Well, it looks like the much-trumpeted LGBT Senior Housing Project that the Pride Center rolled out to much fanfare might be nothing more than a low-income housing project coming to a street near you.

Now don’t get me wrong, as a community, we need to address issues such as affordable housing, low-income housing, housing for those in need of supportive services such as the homeless, those with substance abuse issues, those with mental health issues, and so many more. If these are the goals of the Pride Center and its partner Carrfour, then they need to come clean to the community they serve and not sugar-coat reality by masking this project as much needed affordable housing for LGBT seniors.

The community is starting to see through the smoke screen pumped out by Robert Boo & Associates and are starting to ask questions. The main question is, what type of housing for seniors are we talking about, “55 and older” or “62 and older”? This might seem like a minor issue dealing with age, but the distinction under Federal guidelines is huge. In a 55 and over community, only 80% of the units are restricted to having just one person 55 years or older living in them. That leaves the other 20% of the units unrestricted and open to all, along with the 80% open to anyone as long as one of the residents is 55 years and older. That might be a small concern to some, but the Pride Center’s partner in this venture is an organization that specializes in supportive housing for the homeless in the Miami area.

So, when the Pride Center sugar coats the term “Supportive Housing for LGBT Seniors,” Carrfour might be looking at a totally different client base. In a “55 and over community” there is a lot of wiggle room for housing people other than just needy seniors, and may I say 55 years old does not represent needy seniors. If the Pride Center wanted to commit to a “62 and older” housing designation, the restrictions would be much tighter and would be targeted to a much more defined pool of senior citizen candidates. Unfortunately, rumor has it that this is not the case. Just one example of why the Pride Center needs to come clean to its Founders, the LGBT community, and its surrounding neighbors in Wilton Manors and Middle River Terrace.

Adding to the discussion was a claim by Robert Boo & Associates that the planned 120-unit development would add no financial burden to the City of Wilton Manors. Really? The Pride Center is a tax-exempt non-profit. This development would add not one penny to the City’s tax base, even though its residents would be free to utilize services provided by the City of Wilton Manors. Services such as our taxpayer funded municipal library, transportation for seniors, free classes provided by our Leisure Services Department, not to mention our infrastructure of water, sewer, roadways and much more all paid for by taxpayers of Wilton Manors. Subsidizing those in need is not the debate here. The problem is that the Pride Center keeps sugar coating a very bitter pill that the residents of this city will need to swallow if this project is allowed to move forward without some very serious questions and changes. And in case Boo needs reminding, EMS services and our police are funded through the General Fund Budget of our city. A development with 120 units will definitely be a cost burden to this city and to all the taxpaying residents who do not have the luxury of a 501(c)3 tax exempt status that the Pride Center enjoys. That is why we are asking that this plan come out of the closet, with its impact discussed in full view of all the community.

In contrast, the proposed development site on NE 26th Street was forced by City Commissioners to scale down expectations of units from more than 100 to a more “community acceptable” size of about 80 units. This development would add millions to the tax base of our city, while the Pride Center’s planned development of 120 units adds nothing to our tax base and would have an even greater impact on the community than the NE 26th Street site.

Is anyone else concerned about the size of such a project? On a 5.5 acre site that already has five buildings and future expansion plans? Traffic impact? Or do the project’s principals expect an easy ride just by using nice-sounding keywords in their sales pitch, such as senior housing, affordable, and LGBT community, in their attempt to sugar coat a very large low-income supportive housing project squeezed into an unsuspecting community.

It’s time for the Pride Center to come out of the closet and openly discuss with the community exactly how it plans to make life just better here ….

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