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I-TEAM: Sen. Rubio wants HUD to relocate Hilltop Village tenants in unhealthy apartments

Florida’s senior US senator also wants a review of security following crimes at complex

Photo a resident provided to the I-TEAM showing mice in a sink at a Hilltop Village apartment.
Photo a resident provided to the I-TEAM showing mice in a sink at a Hilltop Village apartment.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is now calling on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to not only relocate tenants impacted by a severe rodent infestation, electrical problems, overflowing garbage and other safety and sanitary violations, but also review security steps the management company, Cambridge Management Inc., is taking following crimes committed at the complex.

In a letter sent Monday to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, Rubio details safety and sanitary violations his own staff saw for themselves following the I-TEAM’s first report April 29 – which sparked emergency inspections by HUD and city of Jacksonville code inspectors.

  • May 12: A Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspection resulted in a score of 61c/100.  (The “c” indicates potentially life-threatening conditions were witnessed during the inspection.) The 61 in the score is considered passing (below 60 is failing). The REAC inspection found while the structural integrity of Hilltop Village meets federal standards, the deductions come from health and safety issues like pest and rodent infestations, chronic mold and disrepair of the units. Four units were declared uninhabitable and ownership and management were subjected to more than $160,000 in civil fines. Rubio adds that the passing score at Hilltop Village brings into question whether the current scoring methodology actually ensures tenants are provided a safe and sanitary place to live and wants HUD to reform its rules so inspections account for all aspects of living. He also wants HUD to evaluate its responsiveness when deficiencies are noted by local code enforcement.

In his letter, Rubio also lists recent thefts and acts of violence at the complex – including the July 20 shooting that left three people injured.

The letter says in part:

“Families who live in HUD-assisted properties deserve protection, and I request that the Department review actions by Cambridge Management, Inc. on precautionary security efforts to keep residents safe from violent crime. It is unacceptable that residents at Hilltop Village Apartments continue to live under unsafe and unsanitary conditions, including the severe rodent infestation and ongoing violent crime. As such, I further request that directly affected tenants be safely relocated, that a follow-up REAC inspection take place to ensure that the rodent infestation has been completely resolved, and that inhabited units are decent, safe and sanitary.”

FULL DOCUMENT: Sen. Marco Rubio’s letter to HUD Sec. Marcia Fudge

In June, Jacksonville City Council authorized spending $140,000 to help tenants move out of Hilltop Village Apartments, but Rubio’s request would make this a federal responsibility.

This is not Sen. Rubio’s first letter to HUD regarding Hilltop Village Apartments. The May 12 REAC inspection came after he requested on May 4 that HUD take action.

On June 28, Rubio again wrote HUD, this time requesting additional scrutiny of all properties in Florida managed by Cambridge Management, Inc. -- specifically pointing out that seven other properties managed by the company have failing REAC sores.

At the end of last month, Rubio introduced a bill -- co-sponsored by Florida Sen. Rick Scott -- to reform HUD’s inspection process and hold landlords accountable.

That bill would:

  • Require HUD to publish a report every year for all properties scoring less than a 65 out of 100
  • Put into law a timeline for when properties must be inspected base on their scores
  • Strengthen HUD’s ability to enforce health and safety standards

About the Authors:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.