JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A letter from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official to the owner of the Eureka Gardens apartments obtained by the I-TEAM expresses "serious concern about the conditions of several (Global Ministries Foundation) properties in Florida, specifically Eureka Gardens Apartments, Washington Heights (both in Jacksonville) and Windsor Cove (in Orlando)."
The three-page letter, dated last week and addressed to GMF president Richard Hamlet from HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing Priya Jayachandran, followed an inspection of Eureka Gardens on March 17 and 18. It said conditions were worse than was reflected in a "barely passing" report based on February's inspection.
A HUD official told the I-TEAM on Tuesday that property owners often do cosmetic repairs when they know inspectors are coming. Based on the follow-up visit, those repairs were not sustainable and if Eureka Gardens was reinspected now, it would likely fail.
"HUD is continuing to closely monitor the conditions of all GMF properties to ensure that the tenants are provided with decent, safe and sanitary housing," Jayachandran wrote.
Near the end of the letter, Jayachandran wrote: "As a result of its on-going inspections and observations at these properties, HUD recommends that GMF begin to work toward dispositions of these properties to alternative ownership."
Last week, News4Jax exposed patchwork repairs at Eureka Gardens, with kitchen holes covered, mold-remediation work partially complete and walls covered with plastic in an apartment where a family with three children live.
HUD's letter said the inspector's recent visit documented electrical hazards, health and safety deficiencies, holes covered with painted duct work and serious erosion.
Hamlet released a statement Tuesday, saying Global Ministries is committed to providing safe, affordable housing:
The leadership of Global Ministries’ affordable housing program takes the allegations raised by HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary very seriously. We are working closely with HUD and impacted stakeholders to continue the work underway to improve our properties. I want to assure our residents living at Eureka Gardens, Washington Heights and Windsor Cove that we are actively working with government housing officials to ensure those properties are in compliance with all federal and state laws, regulations and local codes. GMF remains unwavering in its commitment to restoring safe, comfortable and affordable housing for families in need.”
Mayor Lenny Curry, who spearheaded a code enforcement sweep of Eureka Gardens last fall after the News4Jax I-TEAM exposed deplorable living conditions at the complex, continues to press for cleanup and even change of ownership.
"The living conditions are deplorable," Curry said Monday. "I explained to the secretary that when you walk into these homes and you see these living conditions, it's tragic. I also asked if we could be more connected to the rating process."
Eureka Gardens has been under scrutiny since I-TEAM reports exposed deplorable living conditions, involving everything from mold and mildew concerns to gas and carbon monoxide leaks, exposed wires and faulty stairs.
The city confirmed last month that all the interior code violations found at Eureka Gardens had been fixed, and HUD confirmed that it has renewed its contract with Global Ministries to run Eureka Gardens for another year. But a HUD representative told News4Jax that contracts are not generally denied for renewal unless the property receives less than a 60- on a 100-point scale.
News4Jax was told the complex received a score of 62, enough that the federal government renewed its $6 million contract with Global Ministries to operate Eureka Gardens as subsidized housing for another year.
The I-TEAM also obtained Tuesday the December 2015 inspection report from Washington Heights that showed it passed with a 60.01 -- seven points lower than the previous year.
One of the major markdowns in the latest Washintgon Heights' report came in the form of health and safety deficiencies across the property. Inspectors found sharp edges and tripping hazards, which resulted in more than 11 points of deductions. They found issues with smoke detectors and damaged roof soffits with buildings across the complex.
In addition to Eureka Gardens and Washington Heights, Global Ministries operates five other properties in Jacksonville and 56 other properties in seven other states with a total value of $500,000. Hamlet earns $485,000.