JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owner of the troubled Eureka Gardens apartment complex announced a major shake-up of on-site management Wednesday.
The Rev. Richard Hamlet, founder of Global Ministries Foundation, said after a meeting with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry that he will by making major changes in the on-site office of the complex, which has been under fire since its residents brought attention to their deplorable living conditions, including mold, crumbling stairways and gas leaks.
"We are making changes to management on site because I wasn't pleased with my conversation evaluation," Hamlet said. "I was not pleased with things I reviewed on the site with management procedures. I'm going back out there to talk about that right now."
It's unclear how many on-site managers will be fired Wednesday or when those firings will happen. Hamlet has said that he plans to stick with the current property management company, Ledic Realty.
News4Jax asked specifically about on-site property manager Holli Garrard, whose husband performed maintenance on malfunctioning air-conditioning units without a state license. Hamlet has agreed to reimburse every tenant $50 for the illegal work performed. He said accountability starts at the top.
"As owner, I'm mandating that changes take place immediately at the apartment complex," Hamlet said. "It starts with the quarterback."
After the meeting, which was requested by Hamlet, Curry promised to hold Hamlet's feet to the fire on improvements to the complex. He told Hamlet he wants a detailed plan for fixes in his hand by Nov. 6.
"A week from Friday we expect to have a detailed written plan with deadlines in it, and if they aren't met, we will use the full power and authority we have with the city, work with our relationships with D.C., and bring all of the pressure and power we can to make sure people are living in conditions that are safe and have respect for human dignity," Curry said.
Wednesday night residents said they were so thankful to hear about the changes they held a prayer circle on the grounds of the complex to express thanks to finally see movement on their issues and that the mayor is sticking Hamlet with some finalized dates that repairs have to be made.
"You can't treat people like that. I am a resident, I'm a mother, I am a grandmother, I am somebody's sister and you cannot treat people like that," resident Darlene Ball said.
Curry, who visited some of the apartments during the city's two-day code inspection sweep earlier this month, has been outspoken in his criticism of the conditions at the complex. He described the conditions as "heartbreaking."
"Adults should not have to live like this. There's children living under these conditions," Curry said earlier this month. "Some of the mold that I saw and experienced. ... I can still feel some of it when I breathe. It's unacceptable."
Despite those conditions, the complex passed a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspection, but that score was later voided by HUD in a rare move.
HUD re-inspected all 400 units of the complex, but the results of those inspections have not been released to the public or to city leaders. HUD said that report should be completed Nov. 4.
Eureka Gardens is due for re-inspections by the city on Nov. 5 and Nov. 9.
HUD Regional Director Ruben Brooks and Southeast Regional Administrator Edward Jennings are flying into Jacksonville Thursday to speak with residents.
Curry said his office is positioned to press everyone involved, including HUD, to improve the condition of the apartments. He's also looking into a more long-term solution.
"The City Council and I are talking about, is there a way that, when federal dollars flow into the city, that somehow there are people on the ground -- there are people closer to the situation -- so it's not just documents and not just paper, it's person-to-person," Curry said.
Hamlet pledged on Monday after meeting with several local and federal officials to fix the conditions that have exposed residents to mold and natural gas and to put a 30-day moratorium on threatened evictions of tenants.
Eureka Gardens resident Dwan Wilson and others said the property is beyond repair and the tenants should be relocated to other properties and the complex should be demolished.
Tenants have been dealing with mold, crumbling stairways and gas leaks at the complex for months. It's been three weeks since city code inspectors went into the apartments and found deplorable conditions. Inspectors entered 165 units during the two-day sweep and found violations in 163 of them. Of those, three were tenant violations. The rest were the responsibility of the landlord.
Hamlet said Monday his foundation invested $3,000 in each apartment when he bought the property three years ago. He said he planned to invest more money in the units and was unaware of the unsightly living conditions until September. He apologized for the gas leaks -- which sent four people to the hospital -- the mold and the crumbling stairwells.
"I apologize. I regret it, and I'm sorry," Hamlet said. "I'm the owner, and it's on my watch, and I take responsibility for it and making the the changes and adjustments now."
Hamlet's contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development expires in March. He could choose to recertify or opt out. He is guaranteed monthly rent per unit that totals $3 million a year.