JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A News4Jax I-TEAM investigation is getting results as Sen. Marco Rubio is stepping in to help residents at two troubled apartment complexes.
News4Jax started investigating at the Eastside Terrace Apartments on East 7th Street at the beginning of April after people who lived there complained of rats, roaches, mold and piles of garbage.
The sister property on East 1st Street, Eastside Gardens Apartments, had similar problems.
On Thursday, two weeks after the story first aired, Rubio, R-Fla., sent a strongly-worded letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, demanding action.
“I write to direct your attention to the unsafe and unsanitary living conditions that my constituents are currently facing at the Eastside Terrace Apartments and Eastside Gardens Apartments in Jacksonville, Florida,” Rubio wrote in the letter.
He said his staff visited both locations on April 21 and 22.
“During these visits, my staff met with tenants of both properties, where they found systemic evidence of black mold, pest infestations, crumbling staircases, and a general state of chronic disrepair,” Rubio noted.
He pointed out that the Eastside Terrace Apartments received a failing federal inspection score, 51%, in 2019. He said that because of the pandemic, a follow-up inspection by HUD has not taken place.
“It is unacceptable that residents of Eastside Terrace Apartments have been obligated to live in unsafe conditions at a property with a failing REAC score for 18 months without remedy,” he wrote. “Furthermore, Eastside Gardens Apartments has not undergone a REAC (Real Estate Assessment Center) inspection since November 13, 2018. I request immediate action to ensure that constituents at both properties are guaranteed safe and sanitary living conditions, including a swift follow-up inspection resulting in an updated REAC score for both properties,” he added. “This should also include the enforcement of improvements at those properties through any applicable penalties.”
Rubio’s press secretary said the senator and his team became involved after seeing the I-TEAM story called “The Dump Next Door.”
Rubio sent News4Jax the following statement on Thursday:
“The conditions at Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens are not only unsafe, they are despicable and inhumane. HUD should immediately act to ensure that tenants are able to live in the safe and sanitary conditions they deserve, and to appropriately hold management accountable. I will continue working to ensure these living conditions are improved. I’m grateful to the investigative team at News4Jax for bringing this issue to light.”
Residents complained they felt ignored after raising concerns of large piles of garbage and overgrown weeds on city of Jacksonville property, as well as rodents, roaches and black mold on the complexes’ properties.
The properties are both run by Services Taylor Made, a management company out of Orlando. Managers at the complexes said they weren’t authorized to speak and requested News4Jax call corporate. Calls and emails to the Orlando office were not returned.
“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 News4Jax’s 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 the issues, which she said make the complex unlivable.
“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.”
“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.
When News4Jax told the city of Jacksonville’s communications officers about the problems, they sent out a maintenance crew to cut back bushes, mow the grass and clean up trash on city property.
They pointed out, however, that many of the complaints involved private property, which belong to the complexes’ owners.
“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.”
In addition to calling 904-630-CITY, people can file a complaint online by visiting myjax.custhelp.com.
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 his letter to Fudge, Rubio asked for more inspections statewide and prompt attention to the issues at the Jacksonville complexes.
“This situation also raises concerns that similar conditions may be present at other properties in the State of Florida as inspections have been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he wrote. “I encourage you to resume affordable housing inspections of HUD assisted properties to ensure that these important matters are addressed. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to working with HUD to protect the people and families at Eastside Terrace Apartments and Eastside Gardens Apartments.”