Like a 32nd city in Broward County, but with no city hall to turn to for help, an unincorporated pocket of central Broward is one of the neediest areas in the county.
The statistics are not pretty. Poverty reigns, property values are depressed.
This area — north of Broward Boulevard, south of Oakland Park Boulevard, between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Interstate 95 — was a leftover scrap when the surrounding cities incorporated.
A state mandate that all unincorporated zones in Broward be annexed by 2010 came and went. No city wanted it.
The 6,200 residents of central Broward are under the care of the nine-member County Commission, only one of whom is elected by them, and whose attentions are distracted by airport runways, libraries, mass transit and other regional services.
The county has spent some money in the central zone, but commissioners don't talk about the area much. It's rarely on their weekly meeting agenda.
"I know they're trying to lift the blight off that area, but it's a very slow-moving process,'' Tanya Freeman, a resident there, said. "It gets to the point where you just give up. It is what it is.''
It would be wrong to say the county's done nothing.
Amid rundown homes and apartment buildings stands an occasional single-family home with barrel tile roof, so new it isn't occupied yet — and built by Broward County.
Well-manicured parks dot the community. Sidewalks and street lights enhance some streets.
But Freeman and others active in the community, like Eligha Lewis, don't see wholesale change. They see substandard housing, lackluster thoroughfares, zoning and land use problems, and struggling mom-and-pop businesses.
"They must come up with a comprehensive plan,'' said Lewis, who repeatedly pleads with county officials for help. "We need so much capital improvement for our area. Everything. You're basically starting from scratch here.''
The zone was declared a Community Redevelopment Area nearly 30 years ago, and numerous plans have been written over the years. An economic plan was due in January but is still in progress, county officials said. A Central County Community Redevelopment Plan was approved in 2012, and a new advisory board was set up to communicate with county commissioners.
"There's been so many studies I've seen, just sitting on the shelf,'' said Randy Jesus, operator of Tater Town vegetable market on Northwest 27th Avenue. "They've ignored that area for many, many years.''
In his office, County Commissioner Dale Holness reaches for a giant map of his district and pulls it off the wall.
Behind it is a different map, one that shows where unemployment and poverty in Broward County are highest. Central Broward, in his district, stands out.
Incomes in the four neighborhoods there — Franklin Park, Washington Park, Boulevard Gardens and Roosevelt Gardens — are significantly lower than in the rest of Broward County. The median family income in Franklin Park, for example, was $23,828, according to the 2012 redevelopment plan. Countywide, the median income was $62,219.
The majority of the housing is 40 years old or older. And more of it is occupied by renters than is the case countywide, the 2006-2010 American Community Survey found.
The central area also has 10 brownfields and one Superfund site in or near it — properties where redevelopment is hobbled by the reality or perception of contamination.
"The community needs help,'' says Holness.
He pleads from time to time with his colleagues on the county dais, telling them, "We are their City Hall.'' He organized a tour of the area this week, taking county staff and neighborhood leaders along.
"I think some people are hopeless, that it's not going to happen,'' Holness said of prosperity for central Broward. "It is challenging. It's a challenge. But I'm an optimist.''
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