By Greg Jackson
Now that I have your attention let’s talk about Community Redevelopment Agencies in the State of Florida. When I was trying to decide between getting a masters degree in Business Administration (“MBA”), Health Administration (MHA”), or pursuing a law degree, I read an article in a publication that was both profound and life-altering. In an apparent attempt to encourage creativity over systematic procedures that follow historic outcomes, the writer of the article stated that if Thomas Edison had an MBA, instead of creating the light bulb, he would have just found a better way to sell candles.
That appears to be the thought process of many Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA) across Central Florida. Instead of focusing on more productive ways to serve underserved communities through new, innovated programs, CRA’s are merely following a 40+ year process of focusing on business development projects. While this presents an excellent opportunity for business growth and development through the use of public dollars to benefit private businesses, it does very little to address the purposes for CRA’s coming into existence.
What is even more interesting is that the organization that is recognized as the authority on CRA’s – Florida Redevelopment Agency (FRA) – has continually refused to even have a simple conversation about how residents of underserved communities can receive resources to assist with affordable housing, public safety, health issues, etc., through CRA funds as contemplated by Florida legislators in 1969. This “follow-the-crowd” approach has also been questioned by various entities (i.e., Miami-Dade Grand Jury, Florida Auditor General, FBI, etc.) in more recent times because there has been no real effort to put significant CRA funding towards truly affordable housing programs, health initiatives or community policing innovations to assist residents within underserved communities. In short, instead of creating the light bulb, FRA encourages its members and CRA’s just to make better candles.
It is true that I am critical of CRA’s that continue to refuse to address issues facing underserved communities directly, but, I fully support the concept and ideas of CRA’s. I subscribe to the tenet of the 48 Laws of Power, which states in part that to be better we must challenge one another. If no one questioned CRA’s use of funds or asked if there is a better utilization of funds to assist residents of underserved communities, how could real progress occur? Putting this into context: if no one asked why women could not vote, would there have been a Women’s Suffrage Movement? If no one asked why students of various races could not learn in the same institutions, would there have been Brown vs. The Board of Education? Heck, if no one questioned taxation without representation, would this great nation have even come into existence?
Everything related to greatness to some extent started with a question of “why not” or “what if.” If not for those inquiries, our society would continue along a stagnant path or a path that predominately progresses one agenda over another. This, for the most part, is the state of CRA’s in Florida. I know that locally FRA through its leadership has refused to meet with or even have a simple conversation about the issues of importance to those in underserved communities that are within the boundaries of a CRA. I know, because I have asked on behalf of organizations within Central Florida to have that very discussion with FRA. This should serve as a warning or a wake-up call to minorities and small business owners within CRA districts, that the organization relied upon by CRA’s across our state, FRA, has no interest in your input. If you do not believe me, just peruse FRA’s legislative agenda or list of achievements one day, and you will see that it is heavily focused on business development over people. Yes, FRA can show some minimal efforts to develop affordable housing, so long as it is aligned with big development projects, but for the issues related to everyday people, let’s just say there is a lot left to be desired. But wait, here’s the rub — the Apopka CRA takes its direction directly from FRA. This is evident in the focus of Apopka’s CRA to allocate $600,000.00 on a parking lot project and other projects that do not directly affect the housing, sanitation or health conditions of the community within its boundaries. And here’s a prediction, that the Apopka CRA will seek to use some CRA funds to hire new police officers instead of working with the community to implement real community policing innovations. To some extent, Forest Gump said it best, “stupid is as stupid does,” which is a crude, but effective way of saying if you keep doing the same things and resist being challenged, you deserve the consequence of ceasing to be relevant or needed — in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.