JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman held a community meeting Thursday evening with tenants at the Hilltop Village Apartments in Northwest Jacksonville.
During the meeting, city, state and federal leaders promised change is coming.
The meeting, which took place at nearby St. Clair Evans Academy, comes after a News4Jax I-TEAM investigation exposed a rodent infestation in dozens of apartments, triggering a sweep by code enforcement officers who were ordered to inspect all 200 apartments last week.
Dozens of women with young children attended the meeting to voice concerns about what it’s like to live with a rodent infestation.
“Even before I came to the meeting, I caught one in my kitchen,” said Jessica McFadden, who lives at Hilltop Village Apartments. “My son was there. He’s 3 years old. He has autism. He doesn’t know what’s what.”
The I-TEAM has obtained inspection reports that not only reveal that all 14 buildings on the property have a mice infestation -- but there are other safety violations as well. The reports list violations that include tenants living with holes in their walls, electrical problems, cabinets considered unsafe and broken appliances. In the end, we counted a total of 286 violations found in 62 apartments, with a mice infestation noted in 32 homes.
“We have suffered tremendously. Our children have suffered tremendously,” a woman named Nancy said at the meeting.
Arteshia Debose said mice aren’t the only issue. She said she, her young daughter and son were all recently hospitalized because of mold.
“That first made her sick because of her asthma. My son, he likes to touch everything, and he touched the wall and touched his face and the mold got into his system and triggered him to start breathing funny, started sleeping weird. ... It started making my heart race, I started having constant headaches,” Debose said. “I want to try and get my kids out of this environment, but I can’t afford it at the moment because it’s getting hard.”
Sedricia Tinsley -- who found mice in her daughter’s drawers, others nesting under her kitchen cabinet and even more burrowing into her couch -- sent the I-TEAM video of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspectors insider her apartment on Wednesday. They were there after the I-TEAM discovered HUD had violated its own rules when it failed to inspect the property when it was supposed to in 2017. Since then, the I-TEAM found HUD has given the apartment community’s owners more than $5.7 million in federal funds as part of a deal to provide housing to families who can’t afford to live anywhere else.
Tinsley said this is the first apartment she’s had in her name and where she lives with her children. She said she’s developed anxiety knowing rats are invading her personal space.
“When you’re laying in your bed and you hear them running around your bed, that’s anxiety. Now you’re scared that they might crawl in the bed with you,” Tinsley told News4Jax on Thursday. “I’m hoping that they can take care of this, but I no longer want to stay out there because I feel like I will forever have anxiety.”
Pittman said she initially wanted to shut the apartment community down after she saw the I-TEAM investigation Rodent Residential.
When asked whether she believes the apartment community can be saved, Pittman said: “I can’t say that because I don’t know what the assessment is. And if they’re not, then I’m ready for it to go.”
She and other leaders promised the people who live there that action will be taken.
“We are here and committed to seeing this through,” said HUD Deputy Regional Administrator Michael Browder.
Pittman said Hilltop Village Apartments did get new management about two weeks ago.
She said she will meet with HUD and the other local, state and federal leaders over the next couple of weeks where they will develop a plan of action. She hopes to present that plan to the people who live at the Hilltop Village Apartments in the next 30 days.