JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After touring a troubled Jacksonville housing complex, a federal lawmaker is calling on the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate the property's owner, the Rev. Richard Hamlet and his Global Ministries Foundation.
GMF, which recently placed all of its Jacksonville properties up for sale, has been under fire for deplorable living conditions at several of its federally subsidized housing complexes, including Eureka Gardens and Washington Heights in Jacksonville and properties in Tennessee.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., toured Eureka Gardens on Friday with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and City Councilman Garrett Dennis.
“You’ll find no one who is a stronger defender of faith-based activities than me, but putting people in squalor-like conditions, being a slumlord, there is nothing Christian about that,” Rubio said. “We know Global Ministries is having these exact same problems in multiple places. All you have to do is Google it, and you’ll see Global Ministries has done a terrible job managing these properties all around the country, not just in Jacksonville.”
Rubio said he submitted two amendments for a Senate vote that would change regulations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, based on what's been uncovered at Eureka Gardens and other GMF properties.
The amendments passed Tuesday and will be added to a larger bill to go for a vote, a spokesperson for Rubio told the I-TEAM.
HUD inspectors gave Eureka Gardens a score of 85 in July 2015. That score was later vacated after the I-TEAM helped expose unsanitary living conditions at the complex, involving everything from mold and mildew to gas and carbon monoxide leaks, exposed wires and faulty stairs.
Inspectors reevaluating the property this year gave Eureka Gardens a score of 62c. A passing score is 60. Despite the low score, HUD's protocol allowed the renewal of GMF's $6 million contract to run Eureka Gardens.
“In my mind, it’s hard to believe this property could have passed inspection not once, but twice, by any score,” Rubio said.
Rubio's amendments focus on the HUD inspection process and property owner regulations.
First, Rubio wants to change the inspection process to make it stricter and account for mold and bug infestations, which currently aren't factored in under HUD guidelines.
Next, Rubio wants to shorten mandated repair deadlines from 30 days to 15 days for property owners found in violation.
“Even 15 days is too long, but it’s shorter than 30,” Rubio said. “If you think back to when the gas leaks were discovered in that facility -- they had 30 days to respond as opposed to 15. That’s 15 extra days people were exposed to that danger.”
Rubio also submitted a third and fourth amendment Tuesday for a Senate vote.
The third amendment would make temporary relocation available for residents in situations like those at Eureka Gardens.
The other amendment filed would give more say to state and local governments when HUD renews the contract for owners who have violated previous contracts.
Beyond the HUD rule changes, Rubio wants the IRS to comb through the flow of taxpayer dollars to Global Ministries. Hamlet makes more than a half-million dollars a year to manage 61 low-income properties across eight states and employs his entire family, including a wife and three adult children.
“I also think it’s important for the IRS to look at the tax-exempt status of this organization and the way they’re operating,” Rubio said. “Look, these are bad actors, unfortunately, and here’s what’s ironic: Somehow they can afford to hire a lobbying firm and a very expensive law firm to represent their interests in Jacksonville (and) up here in Washington, D.C., but they can’t find the money to buy new refrigerators and stoves for residents that are living in slum-like conditions. That says it all.”
Hamlet is due in court Thursday in Tennessee, where he’s being sued by his investors, who are alleging fraud and breach of contract on his Memphis properties.