Councilwoman: Deny HabiJax funding until Fairway Oaks problems fixed

Katrina Brown walks through Fairway Oaks Thursday after pleas from residents

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The councilwoman representing District 8 suggested Thursday that the City Council should deny Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville the funding it requested until the problems at Fairway Oaks are fixed.

Katrina Brown walked through some of the neighborhood's 85 homes, built 16 years ago by HabiJax and 10,000 volunteers in 17 days, after homeowners came before the City Council Tuesday pleading for help. 

RELATED: HabiJax homeowner says ‘help is on the way' after City Council meeting

For over a month, the News4Jax I-TEAM has been digging into reports that show the area on Jacksonville’s Northside in which HabiJax chose to build the 85 homes is located near a landfill that may not have been lined in the 1950s. 

Reports show that part of the old landfill that was first turned into city housing in 1971 and later demolished 20 years later because of structural problems caused by settling and the decomposition of buried waste.

A report in 1997 also found that pesticides, chromium, lead and arsenic were detected in one soil sample taken from Golfbrook Drive and Brook Forest Drive and aluminum was found in four of the soil samples.

I-TEAM: HabiJax homes built on land unable to support them, document says

And within five years after the Fairway Oaks homes were built in 2000, residents said that they noticed their homes were shaking and unsettled, and homeowners began complaining about cracked slabs, sinking, mold and termites.

Northside residents who blame HabiJax for poor construction that left their homes falling apart voiced their concerns earlier this month when the Jacksonville Housing and Community Development Commission considered granting more than $840,000 to HabiJax for new construction. Residents asked that money proposed for future HabiJax projects be diverted to help them instead. 

The I-TEAM was told the city did not give HabiJax any money in 2013, 2014 or 2015.

"My thought process is we haven't funded Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville in the last three years. As a council person that's representing the district for the constituents, I am going to attend those finance meetings and ask the city to defund and not award Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville the $845,000," Brown said. 

Brown agreed with the residents and said the city should not give HabiJax the funding it requested until the problems at Fairway Oaks are fixed.

"We have an upcoming budget coming up, so the finance committee, when we have recommendations from different departments, we can defund or set aside those funds and not award the company those recommendations. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to push for my colleagues not to fund Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville the $845,000," Brown said. 

In May, HabiJax sent a statement to the I-TEAM saying a professional engineer for the city of Jacksonville inspected the homes and a civil engineer conducted a similar inspection of more than 51 homes several years later in 2013.

Brown also disputed HabiJax's initial statement that said, "all the complaints stem from lack of maintenance and not from poor construction."

"Well let me tell you what message I have to Habitat. I want to be loud and clear. If this what they call quality homes that they build in the city of Jacksonville, don't build more homes in the city of Jacksonville," Brown said. 

Brown said HabiJax needs to take responsibility and it was the nonprofit's duty to do thorough research before building the homes on unsuitable soil. She said these homes now have no value, won't sell and the taxpayers in her district no longer have the American dream.

The I-TEAM asked Brown if relocating Fairway Oaks homeowners was an option.

"That would be up to Habitat for Humanity. And I met with them before and talked about the conditions. They've been out here and they know the conditions of what the constituents are living in. And I'm saying that relocation is probably the only option," Brown said. 

Residents said they're pushing for that option as well.

"She shouldn't have had to say that. Habitat should have taken that $840,000 and say, 'We are going to use that at Fairway Oaks to bring Fairway Oaks up and move them to the proper location where they need to be.' To take us off lead, mercury and arsenic ground, to take us away form Moncrief Creek back there behind us, to stop the houses from sliding down. They need to do justice to us," homeowner Detrese Mixon said. 

Residents said Thursday they are relieved and ecstatic that a city official finally came out to view their concerns firsthand. 

"I'm glad they're here. I'm proud they're here. We're finally getting justice," Mixon said. 

Nathaniel Borden, president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association, said he hopes the community will meet with a representative from the environmental department and housing department.

"We're not going to let another 10 years go by without something being done," Borden said. "Somebody's doing something. Somebody cares. Somebody's behind us now," 

The next City Council finance meeting has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at City Hall.