56ºF

Problems continue to mount at Eureka Gardens

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents at the Eureka Gardens apartment complex are continuing to voice their outrage over the living conditions they said they are forced to deal with. They are coming forward saying that even the repairs meant to fix problems are substandard with reports of everything from mold, to rusted out stairwells.

These issues come after the complex faced problems last year with former city councilman Warren Jones who was pushing for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to remove Eureka Gardens section 8 vouchers which a large number of the residents use to pay their rent unless security improved.

Jones is no longer in office and it is unclear what new councilman Garrett Dennis plans to do.  

LISTEN: Phone interview with councilman Garrett Dennis

With much of the rent being paid with those government monies, residents want to know if the owner, Richard Hamlet from the Global Ministries Foundation, a Christian-based organization, is getting those tax dollars, why proper repairs are not happening.

A check of federal records on Global Ministries show it received $5 million in taxpayer money since 2013 to subsidize rent at Eureka Gardens, alone.

Residents' frustrations are boiling over. One tenant, who did not want to be named, is demanding to know if the government subsidies are going toward repairs.

"Where is the money that the government assists us to assist us with? You see this, all that. Really! But you fix our steps, this is not fixing our steps, oh that's crap! Can you see my hand, hi! That's fixing our steps. I don't even let my children walk up and down because if they collapse then what," she said, pointing out a hole in stairs leading up to some second story apartments that were supposed to be fixed," she said. 

photo

Tracy Grant, head of the tenants association at Eureka Gardens, pointed out an area in her apartment that she said was covered in mold last week and which now she said was simply painted over by the apartments repair group.

"I still tell them, ‘It's still gonna' come through.' You don't cover mold with paint. That means the wall needs to come down. There's still something under or above the wall between the two apartments that's causing the mold," Grant said.

Grant has been more then frustrated with the condition of her apartment, she's been outspoken and she said the paint job won't shut her up.

"I don't even call it helpless. It's making me angry, because all you want to do is patchwork because you want me to shut up. Don't shut me up, fix the problem. I'm not going to stop, I'm not going to shut up until it gets completely fixed. I'm not going to shut up," Grant said.

photo

When asked if he was having his contractors paint over mold, Hamlet denied the allegation.

"They wouldn't do that. There is a difference between mildew and mold. We're assessing to make sure there is no mold in the units and if there is, then we will have it remediated properly. Units I walked in last week were mainly mildew and the mold was very minimal," Hamlet said. 

Whether it is mold or mildew, residents believe it is the result of improperly installed AC units that can be seen leaking throughout the complex, that have been placed in most of the units.

Residents said they were forced to use the property manager's husband, Mark Garrard, who is not a licensed contractor in the state of Florida, to install the AC units.

Residents say they were forced to sign an air-conditioning addendum as the only way they're able to get AC installed in their apartments.

READ: Air conditioning addendum

It reads, "Air conditioners must be installed by the contractor approved by this property," and checks show where tenants paid that approved contractor, Mark Garrard, $50 to install the unit.

photo

"We're on this thing and we want to make sure our residents are healthy and the housing units are safe," Hamlet said.

That means safe for a property that's home to 866 people, where 28.3 percent of those tenants are children 5-years-old and under and 52.9 percent of all residents are under 17-years-old along with 47 people who are disabled.

Hamlet confirms to News4Jax that he makes $485,000 every year. A salary he maintains he deserves for running a company that generates $100 million in revenue every year.

He values the company's real estate portfolio at $500 million that includes 11,000 units spread across 61 affordable housing properties in eight different states.

That's money that some residents said they feel like Hamlet is using just to pad his own pockets off of their dire situation.

"That's just, that's just not true. We raise private capital. These are capital developments. We are a developer (and) the only reason why we're in the news (is) that I'm an evangelical pastor who runs a faith-based agency that runs a business corporation. That's the bottom line," Hamlet said.

But it's not just residents pointing fingers at apartment management, said Ken Adkins, a local minister and community activist. He said the problems are bad enough to warrant a criminal investigation.

"The owner of this place gets millions of dollars, millions of dollars from the federal government. You would think they would be a better steward of the money from the government. But also for these people. No one deserves to live like a pig," Adkins said.

"We have nothing to hide, we abide by the statutes, the HUD regulations," Hamlet said.

When asked if he was a slum lord or not, Hamlet denied the allegation and said his work was all about helping others.

"Absolutely false. Anyone who says that knows nothing about me, my calling, how we do so much to help people. A slum lord doesn't care about their residents and we care about our residents and we're here to serve them," Hamlet said.

Hamlet said he believes he's being targeted because he's an evangelical Christian. But Adkins, also an evangelical minister, isn't holding back his criticism and wants a criminal investigation.

"Everyone has an opinion and HUD is our regulator and we're doing a great job out there. We've been there for 2 1/2 years and spent millions of dollars and made lots of improvements," Hamlet said.  

Mayor Lenny Curry did receive information provided by the Eureka Gardens tenants association and he said he is very concerned about the assertions made by the association and has directed leaders in key departments throughout the city to work closely with the Department of Housing and Urban Development for information. The departments that are convening include building inspection, code enforcement, environmental quality, disabled services and community services.

Curry said their work is integral to efforts that promote public safety and quality conditions for citizens.


About the Authors: