Mitch Friedman exuded the most gregarious charm and practical seriousness. His affable nature opened doors, made the most entrenched bureaucrat more open-minded and enjoined others heartily in his project or cause. His earnest character, too, worked to hold all accountable to the mission. His fellowship with Rural Neighborhoods bore much fruit over three decades and ever remains impactful.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I joined We Will Rebuild in rebuilding southernmost Miami-Dade under Mitch’s invitation and tutelage. Mitch knew the inner workings and political personalities in Miami Dade. I understood the farm worker community. Beginning in 1992 that partnership worked in a myriad of ways – all to the betterment of low-income immigrants. In rebuilding, Mitch stood as a staunch advocate for community-based redevelopment by organizations like ours at ground-zero not outside groups seeking new opportunities. His arguments helped preserve Everglades Community Association (our predecessor entity) as Developer of Everglades Farmworker Village, a model 120-acre rural rental community. His technical assistance in Phase I shaped our execution and helped establish our bona fides. Three decades and multiple phases later Everglades Village stands as a testament to his faith placed in our work.
His guidance and friendship led to our personal co-development of transitional homeless housing and social service offices. Those experiences in part turned me (and, as these things go, Rural Neighborhoods) into a more capable developer – heck, one day on one job, together we (joyfully) got fired. Mitch’s warmth and humor made firing pleasant (and brings a smile to my face some 25 years later).
Relationships matter. Upon establishing Pinnacle Housing Group, his risk-taking and shared trust led Rural Neighborhoods and his new partners together bringing investment to bear for farm workers in Saint Lucie County. From 2005 – 2008, 184 newly constructed rental homes changed the landscape of Martin Luther King Boulevard in Fort Pierce, provided Black and Latino citrus and packing house workers safe, decent housing (and then some) and altered the image of farm labor housing in the minds’ eye of local elected officials. His coaching and seed capital then helped built Rural Neighborhoods’ expertise and capital to be deployed over the next decade. His expert hand reached out not once but again and again. Rural Neighborhoods’ geographic growth is due in part to a colleague like Mitch who offered to tackle housing needs in new communities together.
Mitch, relationships certainly matter. Business or personal, generous ones or hard bargained. For 30 years, none ever took more than a handshake.