JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Fairway Oaks neighborhood residents said Friday that unless their HabiJax-built homes are fixed, they will vote against the referendum proposed by Mayor Lenny Curry on the August ballot, which is asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to pay off the city's multibillion-dollar pension deficit.
The mayor's office responded Thursday to the News4Jax I-TEAM's request for comment after a third-party building inspector released his 23-page report, discovering numerous flaws with one of the HabiJax-built homes in the Fairway Oaks neighborhood.
Tia Ford, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, said the city's sentiments are the same as those issued in a statement by HabiJax on May 13 that said, "All the complaints stem from lack of maintenance and not from poor construction."
Residents chanted, "No help, no pension," after hearing the mayor's office's response. Residents said they're done talking, and they feel they've been ignored by Curry.
"Are you afraid, mayor, that when you come to this community and walk into our homes, are you afraid you're going to fall into the crack? Are you afraid that with our ceiling, you see the nails popping (out), are you afraid the ceiling is going to fall down on your head?" said resident Shirley Dempsey.
For nearly two months, the News4Jax I-TEAM has been digging into reports that showed 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.
"It's like we don't matter. And that's the response that we're getting from the mayor's office, from everyone down at City Hall. It's like we don't matter, and we're tired of it," said Nathaniel Borden, president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association.
Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville CEO and President Mary Kay O’Rourke released a statement in May when the I-TEAM began its investigation. Part of the statement read, "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.’"
In May, the I-TEAM asked William Chandler of Property, 360, LLC, one of Florida’s top building inspectors, to walk through one of the homes in Fairway Oaks. Chandler measured growing cracks, lowering elevation and even discovered termites at one of the homes.
Last month, he released his report on the findings, which said structural cracking is increasing significantly, the concrete mix used was inadequate, and the home was built on top of an existing slab. The findings also showed that the structure of the home is deficient and will require significant and reoccurring repairs.
The I-TEAM sent the report to the mayor's office, which responded Thursday, saying city will not be relocating the residents of Fairway Oaks.
"This is the actual report from Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville in 2007. Nowhere in this report does it state that it's from a lack of maintenance, but it did state that it would be cost-prohibitive to do these repairs, stating that it's going to be way more to do the repairs than our homes are actually worth," Borden said.
The residents said they plan to rally the entire Northwest quadrant as they prepare to act.
"We will be going down to City Hall. We will be going down to the mayor's office. We will be going down to Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville to protest, because we're not standing by, letting the mayor and the City Council do what they want to do," Borden said.
Borden said if the mayor and Councilman Garrett Dennis can walk through Eureka Gardens and Washington Heights apartment complexes, then why not Fairway Oaks?
"We're going to vote down on the pension plan. And that's what all the citizens of Jacksonville need to do is vote no on the mayor's pension plan, when it comes to justice. Until we get justice, we're all going to vote no for the pension plan," Borden said.
Residents said they will be protesting within the next few weeks.
"We're asking you to come and see for yourself. And I also want to say to you, most of the toilers in this community are rocky and unstable, so make sure to use the bathroom before you come out," Dempsey said.
The I-TEAM called and emailed Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville Friday but has not yet heard back.