JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City Councilman Tommy Hazouri wants the landlord for the troubled Eureka Gardens and Washington Heights housing complexes to pack up and leave Jacksonville.
In a candid one-on-one interview, Hazouri assured the I-TEAM that city leaders will step in to help the 200-plus families at Washington Heights, like they have done at Eureka Gardens.
For six months, the I-TEAM has exposed squalor at both properties, which are owned by the Rev. Richard Hamlet's Global Ministries Foundation.
The conditions are so deplorable that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has told Hamlet to sell both complexes.
Eureka Gardens barely passed its HUD inspection with a score of 62c. The latest HUD report confirmed Washington Heights was in even worse condition. It scored 60.01. A passing HUD score is 60.
A source at GMF told the I-TEAM on Wednesday that the foundation is continuing with federally mandated repairs to Eureka Gardens and expects to meet all deadlines. As for the future of Hamlet's properties in Jacksonville and whether GMF would consider selling them, the source said only "all options are open."
“He has no business being in this business," Hazouri said of Hamlet. "I can tell the residents today that today is the beginning of a correction from where they are today, and they're no different from Eureka. They're in worse condition than Eureka. This is a city problem.”
Hazouri vowed that city leaders aren't done yet cleaning up subsidized housing in Jacksonville.
“I don't want to be a Johnny-come-lately, but when I got the report how Washington Heights was at 60.01 and that's barely passing, to me that's a D- but it's worse than a D- to me,” Hazouri said. “They're seven points under where they were a year ago.”
Hamlet and GMF bought seven properties in Jacksonville in 2012 in a deal that the I-TEAM reported last fall was against city protocol and approved by then Mayor Alvin Brown.
“That's our tax money, and their livelihood and their quality of life. You've got people with two jobs, and then they come back to a home that's not really a home,” Hazouri said. “We've got to get a handle on it. And it's never too late, but as far as I'm concerned, it's too late for Mr. Hamlet, for Reverend Hamlet. Why he calls himself a reverend, I don't know.”
HUD officials have told Hamlet to find a new owner. Tenants said that's what they want, too.
While still pregnant last fall, a mother at Washington Heights took the I-TEAM inside her unit to see water pouring through her bathroom and bedroom ceiling.
Last week, she showed us mold still in her shower and a hazard of rusted nails and bent metal outside her door, where she lives with three young children.
Despite the continued problems, that woman said she trusts Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry will come to her complex, just as he did at Eureka Gardens.
“Unfortunately, they're stuck,” Hazouri said of the residents of the troubled complexes. “They're stuck in their apartments, and the conditions that they're in, and HUD is just now getting on top of it. They should have been on top of it a long time ago, and unfortunately, it almost borders a federal investigation.”
Hazouri said he is committed to bringing the city in to help the residents.
“I think the city's committed to already coming in and doing something about it,” Hazouri said. “All of us are kind of hung up on a pension referendum, but we can multitask, and we need to address these problems in Jacksonville.”
Hazouri also had a message for Hamlet.
“I'll just say, 'Shame on Reverend Hamlet. Shame on his Global Ministry,' because to me, he has taken something that is very serious, something that in his words, Christian, and being very un-Christian-like in the way he's dealing with his fellow man,” Hazouri said. “He's not loving his neighbor like he loves himself, and I can assure you, he loves himself big time with over 500-something thousand dollars in income.”
The I-TEAM asked Councilman Reggie Brown for comment, because his district includes Washington Heights, but we have not received a response.
The Mayor's Office has also not yet responded to a request for comment about Curry's canceled trip to Washington Heights last week.