The dirt lot that cost taxpayers $764,000 sits on a grungy corner just outside Miami, strewn with slashed tires and beer cans and an official white sign, now covered with weeds, announcing Miami-Dade’s promise to the poor: Riverside Homes. Miami-Dade Housing Agency Funded Project.
Reporter Debbie Cenziper spent seven months investigating the Miami-Dade Housing Agency. Over the course of year, the Miami Herald published more than 30 stories, including seven major installments. Cenziper discovered that, “Aided by the agency’s longtime director, a cadre of developers made out, raking in millions of dollars for homes that have never been built. From Little Havana to Liberty City, they took the money but left only empty lots, with broken baby cribs and bags of trash where houses had been promised.”
Judges said: “Debbie Cenziper led a team of Miami Herald journalists on a well-planned project that exposed affordable-housing development fraud and expanded as the story expanded. It includes gut-wrenching personal stories, multimedia presentation, maps, charts, photos, sidebars, comment boxes, timelines, graphics, lists and more.”
Executive Editor Tom Fielder pointed out, “‘House of Lies’” outraged Miami like few other scandals,” and he lauded Cenziper, who examined hundreds of original contracts, invoices, budgets and construction correspondence dating back a decade.
Judges enthused about the “profound corrective action this reporting spurred, including local and federal investigations, the arrest of the developer at the center of the scandal, and the dismissal of top housing officials.”
The overwhelming community response taught Cenziper “again … the importance of local watchdog reporting, especially at regional newspapers.”
“Throughout the reporting,” Fielder added, “Cenziper never lost sight of the people most affected: the working poor.”