I-TEAM: Owner dubbed ‘slumlord’ cites federal underfunding for apartment problems

HUD spokesperson said agency disagrees with owner’s statements

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the News4JAX I-TEAM’s ongoing investigation into failing apartment complexes in Jacksonville, the spotlight has shifted to the Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens properties, where government subsidies help many pay their rent. The two sister properties, just a mile north of the sports complex, have been under scrutiny for years due to substandard conditions.

MORE: Failing Jacksonville apartments to get new ownership, renovations after I-TEAM exposes years of problems

The I-TEAM reported this is leading to a potential sale to nonprofit LIFT JAX and a developer for over $6 million, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

According to Andrew Podray, the owner of Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens, the blame for the complexes’ poor condition should not rest solely on the landlord. Podray, who has been labeled a “slumlord” by residents and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, claims that there are underlying factors contributing to the deterioration of the properties which he’s owned for two decades.

“So either suddenly, in 2020, I had an epiphany and I became a slumlord overnight, or there’s something else more to the story that the public has not heard yet,” he said.

Podray contends that underfunding from the federal government is a significant issue.

As with other private investors, Podray purchases affordable housing complexes and receives federal reimbursement from tenants on government assistance. However, he points to a disparity between rising expenses and stagnant federal funding. Last year, in personal records he emailed to the I-TEAM, he reported a loss of over $540,000 in personal records, suggesting that the property costs are increasing while government funding remains insufficient.

RELATED: Mice, roaches, weeds: I-TEAM tackles complaints at Eastside complex

A HUD form provided by Podray reveals that contract rents for a 2-bedroom apartment in the properties increased from $720 a month in 2017 to $776 in 2021. However, this rent increase is inadequate compared to comparable pricing in the same area, which averages $1,100 a month.

“I have always gone above and beyond to properly maintain Eastside Gardens and Eastside Terrace. Through time, the department was paying me more dollars, it was far less because of inflation,” Podray emphasized, asserting his commitment to maintaining the properties.

A HUD spokesperson responded to Podray’s claims, writing in an email to the I-TEAM, “HUD disagrees with Mr. Podray’s statement. However, since this matter is currently in litigation, HUD cannot comment on this topic at this time.”

Jim Kowalski, CEO of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, a nonprofit that supports tenants in crisis, noted that the Jacksonville Housing Authority’s waitlist has reached a staggering 147,000 people, far surpassing the supply of government housing. Kowalski believes that HUD’s fair market rent calculations need to be more flexible, responsive to local markets, and higher in order to address Jacksonville’s longstanding affordable housing crisis.

Regarding the potential sale of Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens, the HUD spokesperson confirmed that the agency is “working diligently with the parties,” but cautioned that such transactions can take time to review.

Kowalski advised residents to continue seeking assistance, document any housing issues, and report them to local code enforcement and federal authorities. He emphasized the importance of taking appropriate action to address the affordable housing crisis in the city.


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Do you have a date on when that could be approved?

This transaction involves the sale of multiple projects and the assignment and transfer of Housing Assistance Payment Contracts (HAP Contracts) and property use restrictions. HUD is working diligently with the parties to ensure the transaction complies with all HUD statutory and regulatory requirements. Such transactions can take time to review, especially if revisions and supplementary information are required, as it has been in this case. The review is progressing, but we are unable to specify when the review will be completed.

Do you have more information on what HUD’s role is on a sale like this?

HUD’s role in this transaction is to review and approve the proposed assignment, and transfer of the HAP Contract and use restrictions.

Also, the current owner Andrew Podray says he was forced into sale because he didn’t have enough money from the HUD payments to cover the needed repairs and maintenance. If you’d like more details about his exact allegations, let me know.

HUD disagrees with Mr. Podray’s statement. However, since this matter is currently in litigation, HUD cannot comment on this topic at this time.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.