JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The I-TEAM’s investigation into a mice infestation at the Hilltop Village apartments in Northwest Jacksonville continues to get results for tenants.
News4Jax has learned that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be inspecting the property next week, after we discovered it should have been inspected in 2017 but wasn’t. HUD has not been to the apartments in nearly six years.
Congressman Al Lawson’s team met with residents at Hilltop Village on Saturday and walked the property so they could see the mice problem in person. They told the residents they want to make sure they have safe housing.
A resident said the meeting was about moving the residents to alternative housing while the apartments get fumigated.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s office sent the I-TEAM a statement about Lawson’s request that the city relocate the residents:c
“Unfortunately as a City, we do not have the resources to move that number of people to another location. As this is a federally and state funded housing complex in Rep. Lawson’s district, we are confident he will be able to locate temporary assistance from the state and federal level while we perform the roles we are tasked -- code compliance.”
Resident Sedricia Tinsley, who was among those who alerted the I-TEAM to the issues, said knowing the HUD inspectors are coming soon ins’ much of a relief. Not yet.
“I feel no different,” Tinsley said. “I won’t feel better until actions start being taken.”
A letter Sen. Marco Rubio sent Tuesday to HUD’s secretary indicated the department had not inspected the property since 2015, even though Hilltop Village receives federal money through HUD.
Under such agreements, HUD must regularly inspect the property to give it a REAC score, and contracts are not generally renewed unless the property receives at least a 60 on a 100-point scale.
According to HUD’s Health and Safety Deficiency scoring system, a mice infestation is considered a non-life-threatening health violation that would negatively affect the complex’s REAC score.
News4Jax learned Hilltop Village has in fact received $4,207,273 from the federal government, just in the last two years -- amounting to an average of over $175,300 a month -- as part of its contract to provide affordable housing to low-income earning families. In addition, the property also qualifies for $6 million in tax credits.
According to our I-TEAM investigation, during those same two years that Hilltop was taking in over $4 million in federal funds, a mice infestation was allowed to spread to at least 13 of the 14 apartment buildings.
News4Jax talked with at least a dozen families who showed us video and pictures of mice scurrying in their clothes and in their kitchens, rodent droppings lining their floors and inside their cabinets, bagged food eaten off their countertops -- and dead mice caught on glue traps -- the solution they say they were provided by management when they complained of the rodents.
But the traps didn’t stop more mice from invading their homes, the families said.
After our first story aired, Rubio sent a team of his inspectors to talk with the families who called the I-TEAM for help. The result was his letter to HUD, pointing out the lack of inspections -- a violation of HUD’s own policies – and demanding immediate action, including inspections of the property, elimination of the rodent problem and enforcement of any penalties that may apply to the owners or management.
The city also sent 14 code enforcement officers to the property this week to inspect all 200 of the apartments. The first day, they found 42 violations in half the apartments.
City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman called the I-TEAM, too, and inspected the property herself. She is now working with Congressman Al Lawson to hold the property manager responsible for providing a safe environment for the families who live there.
The I-TEAM is still digging into how this was allowed to go on for so long. Look for our next report Monday night, starting at 5 p.m.