JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mice, roaches and piles of garbage top the list of things the I-TEAM discovered across from a government housing complex on Jacksonville’s Eastside.
Residents at the Eastside Terrace HUD complex on East 7th Street called News4Jax for help, claiming no one seemed to care about their neglected area.
But the I-TEAM got involved and got results within days.
We got the complaints into our tip line and found the evidence right when we pulled up at the complex, which is near Matthew Gilbert Middle School. As we first turned the corner, we noticed a lot: the trash, the weeds, beer bottles, soda cans, a bra.
“This is the first time I’ve seen somebody come back here,” said longtime resident Rebecca Williams, who is fondly referred to as “Big Mama” at the complex.
She was surprised to get our attention after claiming to be turned down by the complex, government officials and another television station. She told us she has been complaining for years about rodents, roaches, mold and trash.
“It’s not good,” she said, leaning on a chair on her porch. “I’m an old lady. I’m 80 years old. My health is more important to me than anything.”
And the complaints kept coming. Resident after resident came up to us to tell us about the essentially unlivable conditions.
“I have a newborn and he can’t crawl because of all the rats in the apartment,” said mother Chyna Brown.
She and her children caught a mouse hours before we showed up. She showed it to us in the garbage bag.
Lisa Manners found two dead mice behind her stove as she showed us her unit.
“I’m trying my best to get the hell out of here,” Manners said, as her 9-year-old daughter agreed. “We’ve got a mildew problem, bed bug problem and these damn mice.”
Many here blame the pests on trash piling up and the 4-foot-tall weeds. They’re overgrown just across the street on city of Jacksonville property. It’s ugly and neighbors said it’s been like this. When it gets picked up, it doesn’t stay clean for long. The bushes and tall grass are filled with litter, from tires to diapers. It’s a dumping ground. And the residents believe that’s what’s breeding their rodent problem.
We asked a dozen or so tenants separately; all said they had mice and or rats in their units. Roaches too. They showed pictures and videos to prove it.
“Go down Main Street everything is prim and proper, but you come down into the hood and it’s forgotten about,” said Paul Snipes, whose grandmother lives at the complex. He said it isn’t fair to see this area neglected when others are kept up properly.
I contacted the city’s communications office and told a staffer about the problems. She responded right away and by the next day, we saw changes.
The big pile of debris was gone. And the dumpsters, leased by the apartment complex, had been moved. The spokeswoman explained they had been left on city property and were properly moved back to the complex’s land.
An employee was mowing the grass strip. However, when we showed up, he quickly turned the mower around and left. Many weeds still stood tall. The trash was still there, now cut up by the blades.
That wasn’t acceptable for Eastside Terrace residents.
So after a few days without progress, I called a manager at the city and told her many of the problems hadn’t been fixed.
I made that call in the morning. By the afternoon, a neighbor texted me pictures. They sent out a team of eight city employees to mow, trim and pick up the trash.
“There is progress,” Snipes said. “Within an hour of you leaving, they came out here. So it lit a fire up underneath them.”
The manager for the city sent us records showing a total of four official complaints in the past year. All four had been addressed. She said people need to call 630-CITY and document any problems the correct way. She explained COJ employees keep records of every call, email and communication.
“We have also experienced continued littering in this area so while crews cleaned the city’s part of the property in late March, it appears there’s new litter in the area,” said city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton. “When anyone calls 630-CITY to file a complaint, they are given an assigned request number as you see below and the request is tracked. While we take anonymous calls, we do take down all of the info when someone calls in or files a complaint on the app or website. We only have four requests for service so when someone says they’ve called numerous times, we are not sure where they are calling since our process is tracked.”
Meanwhile, the pest control and mold issues, which fall on the apartment’s owners, haven’t been fixed.
I called the manager and spoke to her on the phone. We set a time to meet the next day. However, she wasn’t there. So I went to her office, camera rolling.
“I’m sorry, but we’re not allowed to talk to you about this,” she said politely. This is common with apartment complex issues. The corporate referral.
So I got the number for the management company. It’s Services Taylor Made in Orlando. They have a number of HUD complexes across the state (and similar complaints of neglect if you check their online reviews.)
While a staff member answered the phone, she said a manager would have to answer my questions. I left my name, number and a message. I haven’t heard back.
For what it’s worth, the residents all said while the management company didn’t seem to listen to their concerns, a sole maintenance man on the property worked incredibly hard to keep the area clean.
Residents were pleased at the progress the city crews made and hope they keep the property around this complex clean. They’re less optimistic about the complex’s management but are urging the property managers to do the right thing.
“I just don’t know what to do really,” Williams said. “I’m glad y’all came out.”
In addition to calling 904-630-CITY, people can file a complaint online by visiting myjax.custhelp.com.