Spotlight

Elena Bondarenko

Elena Bondarenko is a lawyer. Since 2017, she has been with the Downtown Development Authority, where she handles government relations, land-use and zoning issues, as well as legislative and policy initiatives that affect Downtown Miami.

Raul Guerrero
Jun 22 · 4 min read
Elena graduated a semester earlier. She got her diploma when she had already passed the Bar. While working, she continued her professional education and obtained an LL.M. degree in Real Property Development from the University of Miami School of Law.

A Woman of Consequence

Right out of school, Elena got a job at a law firm representing the interests of developers in zoning and environmental matters. Later, she also practiced construction and condo association law. On her free time, she volunteered for causes such as creating schools for the emerging downtown. She was now living in Brickell. Having worked with development and government, she knew about infrastructure planning and impact fees — imposed by local governments for public services, including schools. Yet, there were no schools in the greater downtown. That chasm made her want to get involved. “Through research, I found that thousands of units were approved every year, and millions in impact fees were collected without plans for building schools to serve the new residents.”

DN: Switching from a private law firm to the DDA, a quasi-governmental agency, meant a pay cut… Any regrets?

EB: Not at all. No money can buy happiness! I wake up excited every morning, all because of the work I do.

DN: What do you do at the DDA?

EB: Work with our elected officials and decision makers at all levels of government to further the interests of the DDA district in the areas of development, the environment, resiliency, homelessness, education, and urban planning. In addition to advising the executive staff on matters of local government law, procurement, ethics, grants, and contract law. In other words, help those in need, fight for our children, make my favorite city beautiful, resilient, and livable for all.

“I still get to be a land use lawyer, but now I get to fight for what is in the best interest of our downtown.”

DN: One of downtown’s most pressing and complex issues is homelessness.

EB: “Homelessness has a direct effect on what we want to accomplish in Downtown, walkability, economic vitality, safety and a better quality of life.”

DN: Not easy to tackle…

EB: Miami has one of the most complex legal/logistical frameworks in the country for dealing with homelessness. I have been working on this issue as an attorney, looking into regulatory reason as to why homelessness is still so prevalent and how we can help. In the process, it amazed me how much of the decision-making was done from behind a desk by individuals with little understanding of the true battles that are fought on the sidewalk. I made sure to go on outreach and health visits with the Lazarus Project, police, and the IDEA Needle Exchange Program. An important factor in homelessness is substance abuse and mental health. We need to treat these two problems in a more innovative manner, forming teams of professionals and recovered peers, for example. Housing is a factor, sure, but many of the chronic homeless are not ready to live alone.

DN: Half of Miami’s population are women and all the City of Miami Commissioners are men. Your resume reads like a perfect roadmap to politics. Do you see a future in politics?

Elena rolls her eyes as if saying, are you kidding? No, she can do more for downtown from where she is. And her contagious laugh roars bringing the conversation to an end.

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Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami

Raul Guerrero

Written by

Editor, Downtown NEWS. Director, Downtown Arts + Science Salon, DASS, (DASSMIAMI.COM). His latest book is Curiosidad/Curiosity.

Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami