JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than a week after city code enforcement raids at the troubled Eureka Gardens apartment complex uncovered hundreds of violations, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it will inspect every unit in the complex by Friday and will conduct a review of the complex's management.
HUD field office director Alesia Scott-Ford said her agency will also meet with the tenants of Eureka Gardens, who first brought their deplorable living conditions to light after a HUD inspector gave the complex a passing score of 85b.
"All 400 units will be inspected, and we want the tenants of Eureka to know that we truly care about them and we're concerned about their health and safety and we're doing everything feasible to accommodate them to make sure they have safe, sanitary and decent housing to live in," Scott-Ford said.
HUD officials requested a meeting Tuesday with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry about the troubled complex but that meeting was postponed until 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The postponement surprised city officials, who were prepared to discuss the hundreds of code violations that need fixing immediately at Eureka Gardens.
More than an hour after the original meeting had been scheduled, Scott-Ford showed up at City Hall with Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who said the meeting would take place Wednesday after a preliminary meeting happened Tuesday.
"I have met with the officials from the regional HUD office and the Washington HUD office, and I'm going to make sure we're going to do everything that we're supposed to do to make sure the residents have a safe and health environment to live in, period," Brown said.
A 46-page report compiled by a HUD inspector failed to note most of the problems uncovered in a two-day inspection sweep conducted by the city.
The inspector issued a passing score of 85b for the complex in August, but residents protested loudly to News4Jax and city officials, saying their living conditions were deplorable.
Jacksonville officials stepped in recently, conducting a two-day raid that uncovered code violations in 163 out of 400 units.
Crumbling stairs with rust and holes were found as a major problem throughout the complex. Windows that weren't in working order in case of an emergency, carbon monoxide concerns and a collapsed ceiling in one unit were all absent from the HUD report
City inspectors spotted many exterior issues, including a column detached from a building, leaking AC units dripping from window after window, a broken gas line, and exposed wires all over the property just steps from where children play.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, who represents Eureka Gardens' district, will also be at the meeting with HUD, along with representatives from city code enforcement and the fire marshal's office..
The complex's passing score of 85 on the HUD inspection plays into the $3 million in taxpayer money awarded to Eureka Gardens annually.
Brown said she has serious questions for the property owner, Rev. Richard Hamlet with the Global Ministries Foundation, who owns the complex and five others in Jacksonville.
An audit revealed that in one year, Hamlet's company netted profits of more than a half-million dollars while only spending $242,757 on repairs for all six properties -- or just 3 percent of the $7 million his nonprofit received in taxpayer dollars through HUD.
"We pay him for those residents, so these are tax dollars, and we've got to make sure we're using tax dollars wisely," Brown said. "Anything else is unacceptable."
It's unclear if Hamlet plans to be at the meeting.
He told News4Jax that he's proud of the progress he's made at Eureka Gardens since he bought it three years ago.
News4Jax has asked for comment from Hamlet about the meeting, but we have not heard back yet.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw is scheduled to meet with HUD Thursday.
"It's appalling that these conditions exist in housing that is subsidized by the federal government," Crenshaw said in a statement. "Eureka Garden tenants -- more than 50 percent of them under the age of 17 -- deserve safety and peace of mind when it comes to their homes. There are many questions to be answered as we determine where accountability lies.
"The bottom line: the situation must be corrected. I welcome further inspections and have asked for a meeting with HUD's field office director to learn more details and how to prevent these circumstances from happening in the first place."