JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sen. Marco Rubio is appalled by the mess created during the repair process at Eureka Gardens and believes the consequences for mistreating and misleading tenants should be substantial.
Thursday, staff in the senator’s Jacksonville office attended a follow-up meeting on the property where officials from the city, state, and federal level expressed little hope for living conditions to improve under current management.
Rubio urged HUD to be strict in the review of its latest Eureka Gardens inspection and enforcement of its code.
“The more we learn about Eureka Gardens' management company and its other properties, the more I’m concerned for residents,” Rubio said. “The company just lost federal funding for its Memphis properties after falsifying repairs, and there are indications it was unable to meet the deadline for repairs at Eureka Gardens as well.”
The senator said he eagerly awaits the inspection results and expects strong, swift action for the families of Eureka Gardens.”
As federal inspectors returned to Eureka Gardens on Tuesday, News4Jax learned that the owner of the federally subsidized housing complex is investing millions in repairs since deplorable living conditions were exposed at the apartments.
News4Jax investigators shined light on the squalor at the complex last year, leading the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to void the passing score Eureka Gardens had received from a contracted HUD inspector.
That original inspection in August gave the property a passing score of an 85, but it was tossed out, and a repair list was issued after the complex was reinspected.
Agents were back Tuesday to inspect Eureka Gardens to verify whether all repairs have been made and if the fixes are acceptable.
The Rev. Richard Hamlet of GMF released a statement about the reinspections:
“While there are understandably some concerns in the community about the on-going inspection by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, we need to be respectful of the process and allow the inspector’s work to be done so that the families living at Eureka Gardens apartments can once again rest assured that they are living in a safe and sound community. GMF is actively working with authorities to ensure Eureka Gardens units meet all property safety and maintenance codes.”
Inspectors declined to comment Tuesday, but they could be seen paired with security officers inspecting staircases and walking in and out of randomly selected units. HUD officials said a computer generated a random sampling of 30 units, out of 400 on the property, to be inspected.
Tenants were out Tuesday watching as the inspectors made their rounds, maintenance crews continued repairs and a lawn contractor sprayed mulch. Some said they are ready to be relocated.
"They need to tear them down, in my opinion, because there is a lot of things that need to be done, so they need to just tear it down," Shanelle Carodine said.
A release from Eureka Gardens' owner, Global Ministries Foundation, said that since the HUD reinspection last fall, GMF has spent $1 million on repairs with another $1 million worth in progress.
GMF said 400 identified repairs have been made and that the company has submitted a certification of compliance to HUD, reflecting those repairs.
GMF's release said that the community, which consists of 400 units in 37 two-story buildings, initially required a $1 million repair when GMF first purchased the property in December 2012. Those repairs included security enhancements, stair replacements, bathroom and kitchen upgrades, roof replacements, and HVAC system replacements.
Despite those upgrades, News4Jax exposed last year that residents were dealing with crumbling staircases, leaking air conditioning units, mold and mildew, exposed electrical wires, and gas and carbon monoxide leaks.
News4Jax is also tracking the reports of lead contamination reported in some children at Eureka.
HUD said it is working with the city of Jacksonville to determine if the lead contamination came from paint or possibly the water or pipes or somewhere else.
Global Ministries receives $3 million in taxpayer money every year to run Eureka Gardens, according to the organization's HUD contract, which expires in March.
It’s up to HUD to decide if it will renew with GMF, which also runs five other properties in Jacksonville.
GMF lost its HUD contract and federal taxpayer money to run two other properties in Memphis, Tennessee, and now hundreds of families there are being relocated.