JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Marcia Fudge, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, met Monday with residents from properties in Jacksonville that receive assistance from HUD.
Those properties include the Sulzbacher Village and the Hilltop Village Apartments. Hilltop has past been the subject of an I-TEAM investigation. It’s now under new management — and during her visit, Fudge called the property a “success story.”
In February, Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman met with HUD representatives in regard to the conditions inside the complex. Mayor Lenny Curry’s office ordered a sweep of Hilltop after the first 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. The investigation got the attention of U.S. Sen Marco Rubio’s office, which sent its own team to check things out.
Inspectors have been issuing fines, which have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.
Monday’s meeting with residents came after Fudge toured the complex. Under the new management, Fudge said changes and improvements have been made in recent months.
“Certainly we have some challenges. This was exciting to me because this was a place where they have been making changes, where people are feeling good about where they live, where owners are taking responsibility. This is a success story,” Fudge said. “But we don’t have success stories every place. So, my job here today is just to listen to what people are saying to me and to tell me the conditions they live in and what we can do to make them better — and to let them know we care enough to do our part too.”
Pittman was also there Monday — and she too took note of the improvements.
“I’ve seen a tremendous change,” Pittman said. “A transformative change in five months.”
Fudge said five months ago, Hilltop was a “disaster,” but HUD’s team has been there on a regular basis. She hopes to do that in every HUD-managed property.
According to Pittman, the area that surrounds the complex is in need of an upgrade to its infrastructure. We asked Fudge how Washington could help.
“Well, the first thing I would say is Washington sends an awful lot of money to the state of Florida and to this city in particular because it’s an entitlement city, so it gets its own resources. The infrastructure bill passed, and they have COVID relief money, they have rental money. There’s a ton of money right now in communities across this nation, not just Jacksonville. They need to have the will to do what’s necessary to make the city move and grow. We get the resources here. We don’t determine how it’s spent,” she said.
Fudge said there are older low-income properties like Hilltop all across the U.S. and it will take approximately $70 billion to bring every one of those properties up to code. She said President Joe Biden has requested an additional $3 billion for rundown public housing in Florida.