JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The trouble at Eureka Gardens may spell trouble for five other Jacksonville housing communities all funded by taxpayer money.
The owner of the embattled housing complex was called before a magistrate judge Wednesday for missing key deadlines on repairs.
The owner, Reverend Richard Hamlet with Global Ministries, was a no show, but his attorney was able to buy him another 30 to 60 days to fix outstanding code violations from faulty stairs to a roach infestation.
News4Jax Investigative Team first exposed the squalor at the federally subsidized Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) property in September. City Code Enforcement stepped in with a raid in October writing more than 100 citations for code violations.
Nearly three months later more than 35 code issues still aren't repaired. Meanwhile HUD has enforced their own deadline set for Feb. 4 and they've cut off any additional federal tax dollars until health and safety issues are fixed.
One of the biggest concern now is if Hamlet is if purposefully trying to run out the clock” to avoid shelling out his own money. His federal contract to run Eureka Gardens expires this March and if it isn't renewed that could indicate trouble for his five other housing complexes across the city.
A special magistrate judge presiding over a hearing solely focused on outstanding code violations at Eureka Gardens. City Councilman Garrett Dennis sat front and center along with Hamlet’s Jacksonville attorney at the hearing.
“Federal HUD has issued a default letter and time is ticking on that and it just appears Global Ministries is trying to run out the clock,” Dennis said.
Dennis had hoped to talk at the hearing, wanting to push for stiffer penalties. Instead Hamlet's attorney was granted 30 to 60 days to make outstanding repairs, mainly on faulty stairs scattered throughout the property plus a roach infestation. That extension rather than fines does not comply with the current code ordinance, which is a problem for Dennis.
“There's a lot of things we need to tighten up and code enforcement is on the list, top of the list, actually,” Dennis said.
News4Jax spotted repair crews working Wednesday on broken gas lines and inside units. A new stair case and wood beam built to support a patio home for two families has also been installed.
A Eureka Gardens resident Monica Lewis and mother of four said overall she’s happy with the repairs. However Lewis still has a wall in her bedroom that is cracked, exposing brick from the outside.
“There's still major concerns out there,” Dennis said. “We are not out of the woods just yet even though work has been done.”
Hamlet owns 61 housing complexes in eight different states. Here in Jacksonville, he’s established one umbrella company to run Eureka Gardens and five other housing communities.
“If Eureka goes under for any reason then the other ones are in jeopardy and we're fully aware of that,” Dennis said. “We are moving swiftly, but cautiously.”
Federal HUD Enforcement officers are scheduled to meet with tenants this Friday. Sources say tenants may be told what to expect next if HUD doesn't renew Hamlet's contract in March.
News4Jax also uncovered more than a million dollars in tax monies Global Ministries took in distributions from Eureka Gardens was demanded to be paid back by HUD last month
So far, no answers have been received as to whether or not Global Ministries has paid back these monies.