JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A three-page letter obtained Tuesday by the I-TEAM shows the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspection score for Washington Heights Apartments was a mere one-hundredth of a point over passing.
The report from HUD's December inspection of the complex showed it barely edged over a passing score of 60 with a 60.01, seven points lower than the previous year.
The complex is owned by Global Ministries Foundation, the same organization that runs the troubled Eureka Gardens apartment complex, which has been the subject of numerous I-TEAM investigative reports on squalid conditions.
The letter from HUD officials to GMF expressed some serious concerns about the conditions of Eureka Gardens, Washington Heights and another property run by GMF and its founder, the Rev. Richard Hamlet.
Residents at Washington Heights, which is in Northwest Jacksonville, showed the I-TEAM how they’re living and said they weren't surprised by how much the complex's HUD score dropped in one year.
One woman who had inspectors at her home said that one of her bedroom doors had holes in it, and when the apartment found out inspections were set to take place, they boarded the door up.
Johnetta Dozier, who has lived in Washington Heights for three years, is a single mother of five who works at a fast-food chain, making $8 an hour.
She said what should be the least stressful part of her day is often the hardest.
“It's always hot in these apartments -- always -- so there's no central air or anything, and that's another stress,” Dozier said. “It can aggravate the kids and definitely aggravates me.”
One of the major markdowns in HUD's inspection report of Washington Heights focused on health and safety deficiencies across the property.
Inspectors found sharp edges and tripping hazards, issues with smoke detectors and damaged roofs.
Dozier is the face of the people who wake up in those conditions every day.
She said her kitchen cabinets have fallen off the walls twice, and all she gets from management are makeshift fixes.
“This wood looks bad and it's falling. It looks like the cabinet, you can pretty much tell that it's going to fall and you could see the nail in it,” Dozier said. “This is a dresser board piece that was made for my bottom piece of my cabinet.”
Also in the kitchen was an opening where roaches are seen daily, according to Dozier.
In Dozier's bedroom, which she shares with some of her children, another opening allows ants and wasps to crawl in, she said.
Dozier said her bathroom frequently has mold. She inspectors saw the conditions last week.
In the letter to Hamlet's organization, HUD officials said they don't believe the property would pass another inspection even today.
Dozier showed the I-TEAM why.
“All this moves and everything. I told him about that tile,” Dozier said, showing loose tiles on the floor. “And this is the toilet thing that's never seemed to be fixed.”
She said she puts in work orders all the time, but “absolutely nothing” is done to repair her issues.
5 months later, little has changed
Another Washington Heights resident the I-TEAM spoke with five months ago said not much has changed since she showed us leaks and mold in her unit.
Meisha, who declined to give her last name, is a mother of three who was thinking about leaving the complex when she allowed the I-TEAM into her apartment in October.
She and other Washington Heights residents said they had a glimmer of hope that the complex would shape up and fix the many health and safety concerns.
"I put in a lot of maintenance requests, and they come out and they call themselves fixing it, and it seems like it don't ever get fixed,” Meisha said. “I don't feel like they put in enough effort to get anything fixed. They just come in and just push and stuff and say, 'It's fixed,' but it's not really fixed because my ceiling is still leaking and they tell me they don't know what it is.”
When Meisha first allowed the I-TEAM into her home, Washington Heights had a HUD inspection score of 67.
But just months later, inspectors found rusted staircases, termite infestations, collapsed ceilings and peeling paint, leading to a much-lower score of 60.01.
“I challenge any one of them to come out here for at least a month, just a month, to see how we feel to stay in these apartments,” Meisha said.
Hamlet has until Aug.1 to replace or repair the major problems cited by the inspectors, and HUD is demanding that GMF engage as many contractors as necessary to meet the deadline.