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Units could be condemned at Eureka Gardens

HUD officials tell residents some apartments could be condemned next week

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some of the units in the trouble-plagued Eureka Gardens apartment complex could be condemned as early as next week, according to regional directors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD Regional Director Ruben Brooks and Southeast Regional Administrator Edward Jennings flew into Jacksonville from Atlanta Thursday to meet with tenants and local leaders, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

"I want to operate in the spirit of cooperation, but we are going to do whatever we have to do to solve the problem," Curry said.

That includes possibly condemning the property.

HUD officials announced that possibility to tenants at a closed-door meeting that was filled to capacity.

Apartments could be condemned by next week if an engineering report reveals the stairwells are unsafe, if carbon monoxide detectors aren't installed in the units and if windows don't open and close in the units.

According to HUD, if the stairwells aren't repaired by Nov. 4, the apartments both upstairs and downstairs in that unit will be condemned. Units with windows that don't open and close by Nov. 4 will be condemned, and units without carbon monoxide detectors installed by Nov. 9 will be condemned.

If issues like mold and leaking pipes can be fixed, the owner, the Rev. Richard Hamlet of Global Ministries Foundation, has until Dec. 4 to make those repairs. Federal HUD officials will return to do a re-inspection of Eureka Gardens on Dec. 4.

Hamlet, who was not at the meeting because he was flying home to Tennessee, fired his much-criticized property manager Wednesday evening.

Holli Garrard, whose husband performed maintenance on malfunctioning air-conditioning units at the complex without a state license, was fired at the end of the work day, Hamlet said. Hamlet has agreed to reimburse every tenant $50 for the illegal work Garrard's husband performed. Hamlet said Wednesday that 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."

Hamlet said that right now, Garrard is the only employee he's fired. He said he's re-training the other existing employees at the complex, which has been under fire since its residents brought attention to their deplorable living conditions, including mold, crumbling stairways and gas leaks.

FULL COVERAGE: Continuing investigative reports into conditions at Eureka Gardens

Those residents were given the opportunity to sound off to the upper-level HUD officials Thursday afternoon, and they took advantage.

"They're 'doing inspections' and 'doing the best we can.' No, you're not," Tiffany Peterson said. "Our stairs are falling down, and we have mold in our apartments."

One after the other, infuriated Eureka Gardens residents voiced their concerns about their living conditions.

"My son has asthma and seizures," Taneisha Sermons said, adding that she blamed his condition on the apartment. "He wasn't sick when I had him."

Sermons said she doesn't want the apartments repaired at the complex. She said they should all be condemned. That sentiment was repeated over and over to the HUD officials as tenants said some of the apartment's issues are beyond repair.

Richard Hamlet speaks after meeting with Mayor Lenny Curry.

"They need to give us vouchers so we can move," Sermons said. "We've been here too long."

By law, Hamlet (pictured) has to provide displaced families with either a new apartment or a hotel room until the repairs are completed.

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.

Despite those conditions, the complex passed a HUD inspection earlier this year, 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, the same day Eureka Gardens is due for re-inspections by the city.

After a meeting with Hamlet Wednesday, 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.

Hamlet's contract with HUD expires in March. He could choose to recertify or opt out. He is guaranteed monthly rent per unit that totals $3 million a year.