JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three Jacksonville City Council members have now walked through the Fairway Oaks neighborhood after pleas from residents who blame HabiJax for poor construction that left their homes falling apart.
Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who represents District 8, visited the Northwest Jacksonville neighborhood and suggested earlier this month that the City Council should deny Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville the funding it requested until the problems at Fairway Oaks are fixed.
Council members Samuel Newby and Reginald Brown voiced agreement with Brown after also visiting Fairway Oaks and meeting Wednesday night with more than 50 residents and the homeowner association president.
"Monday, Councilman Newby came out and saw, from the few houses that he did see, he saw that it was a problem. It was an issue that needed to be addressed and one that needed to be addressed as soon as possible," said Nathaniel Borden, president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association.
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.
Council members are now backing those sentiments.
"We do see some kind of progress, even the City Council being concerned on what's going on. And for them actually coming out here and actually seeing for themselves, that way they can relay back to the other City Council members and encourage them to come see for themselves what is going on. They can all see that it's not from a lack of maintenance," Borden said.
Cameras were not allowed inside the meeting of Newby, Brown and Fairway Oaks residents, who discussed issues that have existed for more than a decade.
"The last City Council meeting, Councilman Brown asked if we had a facility where we can hold a meeting and so we actually set up the meeting and he met with all the other council persons to actually come out and actually see for themselves," Borden said. "A lot of them are just now becoming aware of the issue. So they're just now seeing the problems for themselves so they can go back and tell the other council members what's going on and try to keep Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville from getting any money until they actually fixed the issues at hand."
For nearly two months, the News4Jax I-TEAM has been digging into reports that show the area in Northwest Jacksonville, in which HabiJax chose to build the 85 homes in 2000, is located near a landfill that may not have been lined in the 1950s.
Within five years after the homes were built by HabiJax and 10,000 volunteers in 17 days, residents said that they noticed their homes were shaking and unsettled, and homeowners also began complaining about cracked slabs, sinking, mold and termites.
Borden told the I-TEAM that health concerns were a major topic at Wednesday's meeting and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid was also present.
"Everyone about has the same issues when it comes to the cracked slab, the mold and the mildew and the health concerns, because that was the main topic that a lot of homeowners brought up, was the health concern," Borden said.
The I-TEAM asked Borden if they discussed filing a lawsuit.
"Basically, it's not in the funding when it comes to Legal Aid. (It's) already told us that it's not in the funding and we do have to come up with the money to actually file the lawsuit," Borden said.
Borden said homeowners would have to raise more than $100,000 to file the lawsuit, but in the grand scheme of things, residents said they feel that's a low cost compared to how much they've already lost from homes they thought would be a lifetime investment.
Inside the meeting, Fairway Oaks residents said they also strategized on how they could get HabiJax to either fix the issues, or relocate residents who live in homes that have started cracking and sinking.
When City Council meetings resume in a few weeks after council members return from vacation, residents said they will be back to speak to them again about their issues.