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Report poses health concerns for Northside HabiJax homeowners

Report suggests HabiJax homes in Fairway Oaks built near unlined landfill

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eighty-five homes built in one Northside neighborhood in 17 days by HabiJax and 10,000 volunteers in 2000 are located near a 10-acre landfill that may not have been lined in the 1950s, according to a report assembled by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid for the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association.

The News4Jax I-TEAM obtained the report, which suggests that the "public health officials of Jacksonville get involved.”

Within a few years after the homes were built, residents said that they noticed their homes were shaking and unsettled.

RELATED: Residents claim HabiJax-built homes need repairs

In 2006, the nonprofit made an attempt at repairs by installing retention walls. But now, eight years later, residents said not much has changed.

The president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association provided the I-TEAM with the recent report showing that settling homes aren’t the only issues in the neighborhood.

The report was created earlier this year by an independent professional engineer and a legal aid team representing individual homeowners.

In February, the inspector, legal aid team and Nathaniel Bordon, the homeowners association president, visited 26 of the homes, finding that the residents have been dealing with rocking toilets, lifted doorframes, cracked foundations and sinking homes for over a decade.

The legal aid team told the I-TEAM they believe the residents they’re representing have a very strong case. No lawsuits, however, have been filed.

“Everyone has said they're going to do something and look into it. But basically what we did last week is (we) went to the City Council meeting to try to get the City Council to actually help our new Councilwoman Katrina Brown actually do something,” Borden said.

The report breaks down the reasons for the foundation problems.

“In my opinion, the settlement is due to the decay of buried organic materials such as trash. This settlement is ongoing and will occur over a period of many years,” the inspector said in the report.

Though the inspector said the problems can be fixed with repair and maintenance, he pointed out there will be a continuous cycle of finding damage and repairing it.

The report that Jacksonville Area Legal Aid sent to the homeowners association shows the land that the homes were built on was located near a 10-acre landfill that may not have been lined in the 1950s.

By 1969, the landfill, known as the Castellano Dump, was closed.

Three years later, the report says, workers filled in the low-lying areas with trash.

In 1992, workers installing a fence at the subdivision found more trash, and oil tests later found 15 feet of trash -- including glass, wood, concrete and asphalt -- along Golf Brook Drive and Golf Forest Drive, according to the report.

But the most important finding discussed in the report was related to the residents’ health.

Since reports show this area used to be a landfill from the late 1950s to the 1960s, the inspector warned, “The homes should be surveyed for methane with a flame ionization detector” and added, “If methane is found then there may be gases and toxic substances.”

In the report, the inspector then said, “I recommend that the public health officials of Jacksonville get involved.”

“If it is something out here that's going to bring hazard to us, and in 10 years from now we could have cancer or something like that, it's a serious issue and we might need to be removed and relocated,” Borden said.

Borden and his neighbors plan to continue their cry for help, as they question how many inspectors must repeat the same information to show HabiJax that something must be done.

“I think the city, HabiJax, the Housing Authority all need to sit down to the table and say, ‘What can we do to help this and resolve the situation?’ And the first thing they need to do is they need to get the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) out here and they need to get the soil tested and more water tested to make sure there is nothing hazardous to our health is out here,” Borden said.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid told the I-TEAM Tuesday night that no court documents have been filed yet, but it’s communicating with the city and HabiJax.

Resident says her dream has become nightmare

Shirley Dempsey said it began as a dream when she moved into her home in the Fairway Oaks neighborhood.
“The first couple of years were wonderful,” Dempsey said.

Until 2006, that is, when residents began complaining of major cracks in the slab of their homes. Those issues were reported to HabiJax and the nonprofit then installed retention walls along the creek to keep the homes from splitting.

But in 2007, Dempsey said, something still wasn’t right. She said she had a dream in which an angel told her to pull up her carpet and dig outside her home.

Dempsey said she discovered cracks leading from behind her stove, to the refrigerator and from her living room to the other side of the house.

“That’s a hazard because my stove is right there. It could cause a fire,” Dempsey said.

On Dempsey’s bathroom walls, there are now nails popping out of the ceiling and her front door has shifted so it can’t be locked.

Investigators hired by HabiJax in 2007 made a big find.

“When they went into the ground, they kept going down and they couldn't go low. And I said, ‘What's wrong?’ and they said, ‘There’s so much debris around your home that we can’t take it deep into the ground,’” Dempsey said.

Now, in 2016, residents are asking why the city was allowed to sell HabiJax a property that reports show was already settling in the 1970s.

Dempsey said she believes the $1 price tag may have been too tempting to pass up.

“We were ready for this to be taken care of in 2005, 2006 and we were under warranty then so if our insurance is not covering anything now, then that means HabiJax allowed this to happen. That means they allowed the time to move past, so that we may not be under warranty now. But because of this being reported to you back in 2005 and 2006, we were under warranty, and we are demanding that they take care of this,” Dempsey said.

Habitat of Humanity of Jacksonville CEO and President Mary Kay O’Rourke released the following statement to News4Jax last week:

“Every home in Fairway Oaks was inspected by the City of Jacksonville and passed final inspection in the year 2000. We had complaints from some residents in 2005. We took the complaints seriously and had independent engineers and contractors address issues of concern. Homes were re-inspected by the City in 2007. Reports from both inspections stated there were no construction-related problems, Florida Building Code violations or structural failures.

"In 2007, the professional engineer for the City of Jacksonville stated: ‘In my professional opinion and that of the State of Florida licensed building inspectors present, we concur that the problems at Fairway Oaks are not construction code violations or code related but rather post construction and/or neglected maintenance problems.’

"In 2013, our organization contracted a licensed senior civil engineer who conducted a similar inspection of more than 51 homes. He stated: ‘It is the engineer’s opinion that all the complaints stem from lack of maintenance and not from poor construction.’

"The homeowners are represented by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and HabiJax cannot make additional comment regarding further resolution.

"Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville (HabiJax) is proud of its mission to build safe and sustainable communities. We have built and financed for nearly 2,000 Jacksonville families who might not otherwise been able to become homeowners.”