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History is being made today

When Addie L. Greene launched the Palm Beach County Caucus of Black Elected Officials (PBCBEO) in 2003, there were 27 people of African descent in elective offices countywide. Indeed, Ms. Greene herself was sitting on the County Commission when she created the nonprofit after having served eight years in the State House.

Today, there are 45 African-Americans who have been elected to public office: in 16 of PBC’s 39 cities; on the boards of the Palm Beach County School District and the County Commission; five judges in the county’s 15th Judicial Circuit; and, in the State Legislature, two who represent large, diverse districts across PBC.

And at the Marina Event Center in Riviera Beach today, the newly re-created PBCBEO will swear in nine of them as newly elected board members at it’s first organizational event in years.

And as they gather, they will be the largest group of people of color in the history of PBC to be sitting on all those daises. Moreover, there are a few who are history-making in their own right. Consider that:

  • State Senator Bobby Powell (District 30) is the County’s highest-ranking African-American elected official ever and, of the 13 people in Tallahassee who, together, represent all of PBC, he is also the youngest;
  • County Commissioner Mack Bernard (District 7) was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2009. In 2016, he became the first Haitian-American to be elected to the County Commission and was also unanimously selected by his fellow Commissioners as County Mayor; and
  • Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bradley Harper is the youngest jurist in the County court system. He is also a descendant of one of PBC’s first documented residents of African descent.

“What we all do—well, they, since I’m no longer in elective office—is critical to the success of our communities,”  Ms. Greene said, ticking off programs she’d created, including Paragon Florida, launched in 2006 with $8 million she obtained to help establish minority businesses. “It is also critical that our communities understand the importance of their involvement in our democracy at all levels of government as voting, tax-paying citizens.”

Our top elected officials, left to right: state Senator Bobby Powell, state Representative Al Jacquet, County Commissioner Mack Bernard, school district boardmember Marcia Andrews, County Judge Bradley Harper, one of five on the 15th Judicial Circuit, and school district boardmember Debra Robinson.

That’s why Ms. Greene says she created the organization: as a platform to work to promote, support and train black leadership, award four-year college scholarships and help the people they represent understand they have vital, informed roles to play too.

And the BEO did much of that. There were some hiccups a couple of years ago that caused the organization to decline but, today, it’s back. Literally.

Ms. Greene, who has also served as a Town Councilwoman and Mayor in Mangonia Park over her public service career, is now the PBCBEO’s registered agent. She’s a bit in the background these days but maintains her laser focus on bringing the Caucus back to its earlier prestige and value.

“Democracy only works when the people and the public servants are informed and involved,” she said. “This organization led the way on that. We’re going to do it again.”

And wonder who all those community leaders are in the picture at top? It was taken at a PBCBEO meeting in South Bay; the exact date is unknown but believed to be some time in 2009-10. Click here for the list of names.

And to see a list of those 45 current elected officials of African descent, click here. To see those currently running for municipal office in the March 12, 2019, municipal elections, click here. Lastly, Visit the PBC Supervisor of Elections office here for any and all voting-related information. It will be historic.

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‘Home at Tamarind’

On last week Friday, there was a groundbreaking for a new development on Tamarind Avenue, between 21st and 22nd streets, in West Palm Beach (WPB)’s Coleman Park neighborhood: the six-unit Home at Tamarind. When completed, it will house six people with developmental disabilities who are homeless or nearly there. Operations and support will be provided by Gulfstream Goodwill Industries.

The event drew all those who’ve been working the complicated million-dollar, public-private housing project for more than a year, including team leads for its sponsors: GL Homes, the builder; Palm Beach County (PC); the City of WPB; the Quantum Foundation; the Florida Housing Finance Corporation;  and with WPB Mayor Jeri Muoio and Mack Bernard (District 7), mayor of PBC, also speaking on the program.

Underlying that program is a stubborn fact: affordable housing remains a huge problem in Palm Beach County, and not just for those in housing crises. There’s been good news, though. The director of WPB’s Department of Housing and Community Development noted that, over the last five years, nearly 600 units of affordable housing units have been constructed in the city while Mayor Muoio pointed out that newly elected Governor Ron DeSantis committed to ensuring that revenue placed into the statewide Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund will be left untouched–no more raiding it to pay other state bills.

Mayor Bernard, who had been a state Representative before election to the PBC Commission in 2016, said affordable housing is “dear and near” to his heart. “I’m fully aware of the issues and am diligently working to bring solutions to all of Palm Beach County,” he said during his program remarks. “It is a major issue requiring major solutions.”

Watch a video of the groundbreaking ceremony, which included Palm Beach County Mayor Mack Bernard and West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio.

The County donated the land and $100,000 to the project, Mayor Bernard said, while Mayor Muoio said the city contributed $250,000 in state housing funds. The project’s total estimated cost is $1 million and should be completed in early 2020. When completed, there will be two buildings—one with four units, the other with two. For more information on the project, watch the video, above. Learn more about Mayor Bernard here.

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Soon to come: affordable housing

The Riviera Beach Housing Authority (RBHA) and its developer, Housing Trust Group (HTG), broke ground in May of last year on Heron Estates, an affordable housing community that is replacing the old Ivey Green Village public housing complex. The new development, called Heron Estates Senior, is a $22 million, 101-unit, three-story building scheduled to complete in July (pictured, above). It is the authority’s first construction project in nearly 40 years.

And it is just the first phase. A second phase, comprised of affordable townhomes for families, is currently in the complex public-private-financing stage, while a third phase providing affordable workforce housing is down the road. Indeed, the entire effort has been a very long road, says Delvin M. Thomas, chairman of the RBHA board.

“I cannot tell you how excited we are that this project has come to fruition,” he said. “Lack of affordable housing is a huge, complex issue across Palm Beach County. At least we’re doing something about it in Riviera Beach.”

Not only is financing complex, thanks to systemic changes at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which funds and operates housing authorities, but those changes also affect how properties are rented and to whom. At Heron Estates Senior, for example, some of the units will be public housing, some will be market-rate rentals and still others will be subsidized via Section 8.

“But no matter what category you rent,” Chairman Thomas added, “the price will still be lower than the average rental rate in Riviera Beach.”

That amount? $1,200. The one- and two-bedroom rentals at Heron Estates Senior are for those aged 62 and older and earning at or below 60 percent of area median income. Rents will range from $344 to $859, depending on those categories of rentals. Those interested in renting a senior unit at Heron Estates should contact either 800-225-3445 or leasing@htgf.com and leave their contact information. HTG, which is overseeing the development project, will also handle property management. Learn more about HTG and the project here and about the RBHA, here. A ‘topping off’ ceremony will be held later this month.

And, hopefully, there will be more to come, according to Chairman Thomas, who is also president of SIRE Development Group, a private real estate development firm, and a commercial real estate agent.

“I look forward to taking our efforts across the county and partnering with other organizations to help create more safe and affordable housing,” he said. “People need it.”

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The young of all ages can learn about government

Are they curious about how it works? The state of Florida has ways for them to learn. The Senate, for one, has an unpaid week-long page program for young people ages 15 to 18 who support, learn and participate in Tallahassee. Click here for details. Each state elected official also chooses and hires interns, who work during the Legislative Session and are usually college-aged and interested in politics. The positions are also unpaid, but there are benefits for the older student. Indeed, state Senator Bobby Powell (District 30) recently hired an intern, Nazbi Chowdhury (FSU Class of 2018), who worked for him during the 2018 Legislative Session. And, even for the very young, there’s the Senate Kids Booklet, which explains in the simplest terms how that sausage is made. Click here for a copy of the booklet. Those interested in Legislative internships should reach out to their elected officials. To find your Senator and Representative, click here.

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A new connection

On October 26, the Port of Palm Beach entered into its 19th sister-Port partnership–this time, with the Port of Cap-Haitien in Haiti. It happened thanks to state Rep. Al Jacquet (District 88) or, actually, as he said, to his legislative aide, Kesnel Theus. Both natives of the Caribbean island, Rep. Jacquet and Mr. Theus both travel to Haiti often and, as the Representative said, they both hope that a “strong, cohesive, lasting relationship” will occur between the two with streamlined operations, smooth information exchanges and cargo and cruise line growth. To learn more about the Port’s other sister-port partnerships, most in the Caribbean, click here. And to learn more about Rep. Jacquet, pictured, who will begin his second term in the Florida Legislature this fall, click here.

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Those pesky Amendments

Still feeling unsure about the meaning and purpose of the 13–or is it 12?–constitutional amendments that will be on the statewide ballot November 6? Here are two un-biased, nonpartisan options to learn more:

* WLRN, the local National Public Radio (NPR) station, has a page that explains, in clear detail, each of those pesky amendments as well as every local ballot initiative in not only Palm Beach County, but also Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Click here for that helpful visit.

* League of Women Voters of Florida evaluates the Amendments online. Click here to read what the non-partisan, national nonprofit has to say, including, and we quote: “(o)ur board examined every amendment that voters will decide on and determined positions on each. We weighed already-established League positions heavily in our decisions.”

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Pray at City Hall

For the last three months, people have been praying in front of Riviera Beach City Hall, at 7 a.m. every Sunday. Religiously. Why? “Because we know this city,” says Pastor Ronnie Felder of Transformation Church of the Palm Beaches, which is located on the campus of JAY Outreach Ministries in the city. “We know that, no matter what, this city is strong, favored and good. We are re-connecting that to City Hall. Every Sunday, before the start of the work week.” Want to join? Simply show up, Pastor Ronnie says; all are welcome. Call 561-842-4276 for more information.