JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City Councilman Bill Gulliford said he'll introduce new legislation stemming from the investigation into the Eureka Gardens apartments. He wants tighter protocols on who can own and run low-income housing complexes in Jacksonville.
The board that approves bonds that finance affordable housing in Jacksonville was bypassed in a 2012 deal that green-lighted Global Ministries Foundation's purchase of its six properties in Jacksonville, including the troubled Eureka Gardens complex. That transaction included a $34.5 million bond issue that critics said was a bad deal both for taxpayers and tenants.
Gulliford told News4Jax he will meet with the city's general counsel Wednesday to draft legislation that would "make such transactions better reviewed and controlled by our city." He said he wants all low-income property bond deals to be approved by the City Council in the future.
The former City Council president said he's confident the measure will pass unanimously.
And Gulliford did not mince words Thursday about the property owner, the Rev. Richard Hamlet with Global Ministries Foundation.
"I'll say it to the guy's face as a so-called Christian minister: To operate what would be classified as slumlord property, shame on him," Gulliford said. "Shame on him."
Gulliford said he wouldn't mind seeing GMF shut down at all six of its properties in Jacksonville if "they don't straighten up."
"I will participate in any way I can to shut them down," Gulliford said. "Absentee, out of town ownership that doesn't give a hoot about it, obviously, because they haven't taken care of the property."
Gulliford said one way he wants to enforce change is to make sure the financial deal that allowed Hamlet's company to purchase its Jacksonville properties never happens under the table again.
Hamlet used bonds funded by the Capital Trust Agency, which is based in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Through public records, News4Jax confirmed the Capital Trust Agency paid a high-powered lobbying group in Florida in 2012 -- the Southern Strategy Group -- somewhere between $40,000 and $100,000.
That is the lobbying group founded in part by John Thrasher, who was working as a state senator representing the Jacksonville area at the time.
Hamlet and GMF have come under fire since Eureka Gardens residents complained to News4Jax and city leaders about the inaccuracy of the passing Department of Housing and Urban Development score the complex received. Those complaints led to a two-day city code inspection sweep that uncovered violations in 163 of 400 units.
HUD has since voided that passing score and inspected all 400 units last week. The results of those inspections have not yet been released.
"We're going to hold his feet to the fire and make him act responsibly as he should do as a so-called Christian minister anyway," Gulliford said of Hamlet. "If he doesn't straighten up and act right and be responsible as far as his ownership, operation and administration with these properties, we're going to shut him down."