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HUD voids Eureka Gardens inspection score

Agency plans to restructure property management at troubled complex

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has voided the passing score that Eureka Gardens received in its last HUD inspection.

HUD field office director Alesia Scott-Ford said the passing score of 85 that the complex received from a HUD inspector was an error and has been invalidated.

"We basically think it was an error because only one part of the property was inspected because the inspector bid it as a 200-unit development and not a 400-unit property," Scott-Ford said. "So he only inspected one part, so it was an error. It has been revoked and invalidated, and we're going to do a full assessment in the near future."

Scott-Ford said the move is extremely rare. It came after a meeting Wednesday morning with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other city leaders.

Scott-Ford said HUD feels that the owner of the complex, the Rev. Richard Hamlet of the Global Ministries Foundation, has not "worked fast enough in terms of addressing repairs at the property."

Specifically, Scott-Ford said HUD thinks Hamlet's company should have been more aggressive with fixes since it bought the property three years ago. HUD also thinks Hamlet's company should have more maintenance crews at Eureka Gardens to fix health and safety issues.

Scott-Ford said HUD also plans to restructure the property management at the complex.

Hamlet, whose nonprofit also owns five other complexes in Jacksonville and more than 50 others in seven states, previously told News4Jax that he was happy with his property management's efforts to correct problems at Eureka Gardens.

MORE: Complete coverage of Eureka Gardens investigation

Scott-Ford said Tuesday that HUD plans to inspect every unit in the complex by Friday and will also meet with the tenants of Eureka Gardens, who brought their deplorable living conditions to light after a HUD inspector gave the complex a passing score of 85.

"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.

Scott-Ford said HUD will explain to tenants what their rights are and will hear their concerns directly.

HUD has also set up a toll-free number for tenants to call and report any intimidation or other problems. That number is 1-800-982-5232, or tenants can email PBCA@nthdc.org. Scott-Ford said HUD hopes to have a timeline for repairs at Eureka Gardens by next week.

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 HUD report, which issued a passing score of 85 for the complex in August, projected that if all 400 units had been inspected, only 44 health and safety violations would be found.

But the city's two-day raid uncovered code violations in 163 out of 400 units.

Crumbling stairs with rust and holes were identified 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.

Under the Freedom of Information act, News4Jax requested previous HUD inspection reports at Eureka Gardens over the years. So far, HUD has not provided those records.

City inspectors spotted many exterior issues, including a column detached from a building, leaking air-conditioning units dripping from window after window, a broken gas line and exposed wires all over the property just steps from where children play.

HUD is bringing in a separate inspector to evaluate whether the complex is contaminated by mold or mildew.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, who represents Eureka Gardens' district, was also at the meeting with HUD on Wednesday, 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.

Rep. Corrine Brown said she has serious questions for Hamlet.

An audit revealed that in one year, Hamlet's company netted profits of more than a half-million dollars while spending only $242,757 on repairs for all six properties -- or just 3 percent of the $7 million that 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."

Brown said she's also met with HUD in Washington to talk about Eureka Gardens.
Hamlet also owns Washington Heights, which scored 18 points lower on its HUD inspection than Eureka Gardens.

Curry said he understands that the other complexes owned by Hamlet will also be inspected by HUD.

"The top priority is people have safe living conditions -- safe, clean living conditions," Curry said. "We're here today working as a team to get the federal government to expedite the immediate repairs and safety concerns."

Hamlet was not at Wednesday's meeting.

He previously 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 on 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."  

Sources told News4Jax that the city hotline is "blowing up" with calls from people living in other subsidized housing units across the city. To request code enforcement check out an apartment complex, call 630-CITY.


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