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HUD: ‘We are committed to ongoing, swift engagement’ at Hilltop Village Apartments to ensure standards

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says in a statement that its No. 1 priority is the safety and wellbeing of people living in HUD-assisted properties.

That statement comes a day after the Duval County School Board discussed a resolution that asks 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. It states the Board has an obligation to make sure children who attend schools in the district are safe and that the documented living conditions at the complex are not providing that.

A statement from the agency, which reviewed the resolution, reads in part (full statement at end of article):

“HUD’s number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of those who live in HUD-assisted properties. When we identify property conditions that do not honor this commitment, such as previous and recent cases with Hilltop Village, HUD takes prompt and aggressive action to ensure the owner and property management immediately address these intolerable conditions. Under strict guidance from HUD and local government officials, Hilltop property owners have since conducted a 100%-unit inspection, have relocated tenants from impacted units and begun work towards the complete eradication of the pests. New reports of rodents require immediate action and we are committed to ongoing, swift engagement at Hilltop to ensure that it meets HUD standards and that residents enjoy housing quality that anyone should expect.”

The Duval County School Board said during its Tuesday meeting that investigations by the I-TEAM motivated them to demand that the complex clean up its act.

“We are concerned and we hope that we can take action to ensure that students will have a safe, decent and sanitary living facility,” School Board member Warren Jones said during the Tuesday meeting.

Congressman Al Lawson, who represents the district that the government-subsidized apartment community is in, also released a statement that reads:

“It is my firm belief that everyone, especially our children, should have access to clean and safe housing. The poor living conditions at Hilltop are hindering the development of our children and severely impacting their wellbeing. These students need all the chances afforded to them to grow and succeed – regardless of their zip code. I introduced the HUD Inspection Act in May in an effort to remedy this very issue. I stand with the residents and our local leaders in fighting the substandard management at Hilltop Village. We must provide the appropriate support to these children and their families in their time of need.”

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.

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.

Here is the full statement from HUD:

“HUD’s number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of those who live in HUD-assisted properties. When we identify property conditions that do not honor this commitment, such as previous and recent cases with Hilltop Village, HUD takes prompt and aggressive action to ensure the owner and property management immediately address these intolerable conditions. Under strict guidance from HUD and local government officials, Hilltop property owners have since conducted a 100%-unit inspection, have relocated tenants from impacted units and begun work towards the complete eradication of the pests. New reports of rodents require immediate action and we are committed to ongoing, swift engagement at Hilltop to ensure that it meets HUD standards and that residents enjoy housing quality that anyone should expect.

“Additionally, HUD regularly reviews the conditions of its other Florida-subsidized portfolio through regular oversight by HUD asset managers and contract administrators. We have restarted our physical inspections of all troubled properties in Florida that were previously suspended due to the global pandemic. Further, HUD takes strong enforcement actions against any owners acting in bad faith and can impose more severe actions, including demanding a change in management, civil litigation to collect substantial monetary penalties, and/or foreclosure and related debt remedies when HUD holds the debt. To be clear, HUD will hold all property owners accountable to the commitments they have made.

“We know we cannot do this work alone so we welcome a partnership with all stakeholders, including residents, local, state and federal elected officials. Our staff has hosted recurring congressional briefings for state and federal delegations and have reached out to the Governor’s office to join us in this work. As we all are aware, there is a persistent shortage of affordable housing in Florida. HUD will continue to invest in development and preservation to build back this vital housing stock and to make it accessible to all Floridians. We will continue to do all we can to take comprehensive steps to improve the quality of life for the residents of HUD-assisted properties.”


About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.