JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County School Board on Tuesday discussed a resolution that would ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to stop issuing Section 8 housing vouchers for Hilltop Village Apartments until the complex clears up a rodent problem.
The resolution says that the school board has an obligation to make sure the children in the district are safe and taken care of and that the document living conditions at the government-subsidized apartment community in Northwest Jacksonville are not providing that.
“There’s 195 students who live in that complex that attend our schools,” board member Warren Jones said while addressing the resolution at the board meeting. “Our students who live there reside in that complex have to get up and go to school each day, and if students aren’t prepared to learn, then it makes it very difficult as educators to move that student forward.”
If passed, the resolution would act as a formal position of the board calling on HUD to act.
The News4Jax I-TEAM has covered the rodent infestation extensively, grabbing the attention of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is now calling for more federal inspections.
Tijuana Hairston and Taunya Tyson, who lead a coalition of residents called the Hilltop Association, say the rodent problem remains.
“I personally, I think putting tents over this whole thing would really solve the problem, and if that means shutting them down, then so mote it be, you know? The problem has to be solved,” said Hairston, president of the Hilltop Association. “It’s like a nightmare. I mean, really, this should be a movie.”
Code enforcement inspectors were back out at Hilltop Village Apartments at the end of last month and found 26 violations, 14 of which document a rodent infestation. Many of the violations involve tenants who have had a persistent problem that has still not been cleared up. All are from inspections that occurred on Sept. 22 and note a rodent infestation in apartments located in eight of the 14 buildings on the property.
Code enforcement inspectors have been conducting regular inspections since the mayor’s office ordered a sweep of Hilltop Village Apartments after the first News4Jax I-TEAM story on the complex revealed a mice infestation so severe mice were living and defecating in clothes, nesting inside kitchen cabinets, found in a box under a tenant’s sink and burrowing in couches.
Inspectors have been issuing fines against the owner since then — which have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.
The property manager told the I-TEAM in May that they’re doing everything they can to fix the problem, which, according to tenants, is still not resolved.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid filed a lawsuit earlier this summer against the owners of Hilltop Village Apartments, insisting that the tenants be relocated while the rodent infestation is fixed.
The owners have responded and accuse tenants of purposely making the mice problem worst. They submitted pictures from the pest control company hired to exterminate the mice to the judge presiding over the lawsuit. Those pictures, they say, show tenants making the problem worse by leaving out food.
But Tyson, secretary of the Hilltop Association, says that defense doesn’t square.
“They can say that, but that’s not the reason. We basically, we moved in with the rats. They were already here,” Tyson said.
No date has been set for the next hearing.