Zo gives back

Spend more than a dozen years in the NBA and you learn a bit about patience, perseverance and persistence. Alonzo Mourning certainly did.

Those traits still serve the Miami Heat Hall of Famer well in the business world. Mourning, who’s spent more than a decade devoting time, money and energy to Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, recently closed on the financing for an important affordable housing project in the area – one that’s desperately needed.

All it took was seven years and change. That’s patience, perseverance and persistence – and a lot of help from a lot of sources. It took a village to help a village.

“I’m pleased that all our hard work has paid off,�” Mourning says of the 84-unit Courtside Family Apartments project, put together by his AM Affordable Housing group along with Housing Trust Group, a large Florida real estate developer. “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles, but ultimately we succeeded for the community.””

The idea was hatched in 2008, and it’s been a long, grueling road to the finish line. But unlike a lot of real estate stories in that time frame, this wasn’t a deal that was simply back-burnered during South Florida’s drastic free fall and resuscitated when things got better. Mourning and his team never stopped working to make this a reality.

“There was never a time where we put our pencils down on this one. We were always trying to find a way to make it work, every single day,�” says Matthew Rieger, president and CEO of Housing Trust. “Plus, it’s Alonzo Mourning. I don’t think any of us ever wanted to say, “Alonzo, we just can’t make this happen.” We always had to keep plugging away, looking at new ideas and finding all the right resources. There were a lot of obstacles – a lot – but we finally found a way with lots of people lending a hand to make it happen.””

Construction will start soon on the $22.8 million project located at 1700 NW Fourth Ave. It’s the first of three steps to aid a woefully underserved demographic. A second phase with 120 units will aid local seniors. A third phase will follow with 80 more residential units. Construction on the first phase should take about 14 months, Rieger says.

It’s taking tax credits, bonds, land grants and/or financing from all levels of local, state and federal government sources to get this done, as well as private financing and investment. It couldn’t have gotten done otherwise, says Allen Furst, Mourning’s business manager.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen everyone pull together so well on a project, from city to county to state and federal – it’s that important – and it got done,�” Rieger says. 

The Overtown area, just off downtown, has an urgent need for affordable housing. The often-forgotten neighborhood doesn’t have the things necessary to make banks feel comfortable lending money for projects such as this. That’s why it took so long.

“Some financing sources will score an area on what’s there, the drug stores, grocery stores, etc. Overtown just doesn’t have that,�” Rieger says. “There’s not a shiny new Publix or CVS on every corner. That makes it hard. It’s why we had to tap into so many sources.””

Timing certainly helps. With the economy flourishing once again and so much going on in the Miami real estate market, this need was one that absolutely had to be filled. “It’s all about creating an opportunity for people in that community. They need it and deserve it,�” Rieger says. “All those big, fancy buildings on Brickell, it’s not all people working in there who are making six-figure incomes. Those lower-income people need a place to live, and we’re really happy we are going to be able to help alleviate that situation a little bit. There’s so much more to do, but at least this is a good start.”” ?

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