‘We’re grateful they’re here’: Residents of troubled Jacksonville apartments optimistic about new owners

Two troubled Jacksonville complexes to get renovations, security upgrades 2 years after I-TEAM investigation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two years after News4JAX started investigating a pair of troubled affordable housing complexes, they’re now under new ownership with a big plan to renovate.

The federal government approved the sale last week.

The I-TEAM exposed unsafe and unsanitary living conditions at Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens apartments. They’re about a mile from Everbank Stadium and Jacksonville’s sports complex.

MORE: Troubled Eastside apartment complexes under new ownership, renovations to come in next 60 days

James Mercado and his family are thankful to have affordable housing despite the problems.

“They have a nice play area out front and I’m afraid to let my granddaughter go and play in case there’s a shooting,” Mercado said.

There was a shooting in front of the complex just this weekend. He’s on disability with a fixed income and is optimistic about new ownership.

“We want to keep it safe,” he said.

The News4JAX I-TEAM first reported the two affordable housing complexes had been in disrepair in 2021. The complexes were plagued with rats, roaches, mold and violence. The reports triggered local, state, and federal investigations.

New owners plan to renovate 30 vacant units and open by January. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

“I want to see what the residents want to see. More safety in the community, but also there’s issues and challenges within the apartments. Renovations, fixing them up,” said Suzanne Pickett, president of the Historic Eastside CDC.

Now there is new hope for residents after the nonprofit LIFT JAX and a private group, Joined Development, purchased the properties for $6.2 million. They’ve pledged to team up with local organizations, like the Historic Eastside CDC.

“We are very aware of the mistrust. The five decades of disinvestment into the Eastside. So we are aware of the mistrust among the residents. The feelings that no one cares about them based on their socioeconomic status,” Pickett said.

LIFT JAX President David Garfunkel said the properties will need new appliances and new kitchen fixtures to start.

Garfunkel said the first matter of business is to renovate 30 vacant units which he hopes to open by January, a little relief for Jacksonville’s housing crisis.

“Floor to ceiling, total rehab, excited to show you the after pics because it will look pretty different,” he said.

He knows he’s inheriting big problems and the investors have budgeted for that as they plan to overhaul the two complexes inside and out working around the residents.

And while renovations are in the near future there’s already new management at the complexes. In fact, last week the old managers turned over the keys when the deal was finalized.

American Housing Enterprises owned the complexes with 270 total rooms for more than two decades. They fell into disrepair after the pandemic and the owner said he was losing money as repairs cost more than U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, reimbursements. The new deal, which extends affordable housing in the area by 20 years, includes more federal money for the landlords. Many residents pay reduced rent.

Garfunkel said he hopes to earn the residents’ trust.

“Somebody once told me trust equals promises made and kept over time. We have to make promises, keep them and keep doing it again,” he said.

There’s also a name change on the way. Eastside Gardens will be renamed Townsend Flats and Eastside Terrace will become Boylan Flats.

About the Author:

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