JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry walked through the Fairway Oaks neighborhood in Northwest Jacksonville Wednesday after requests from residents who blame HabiJax for poor construction that left their homes falling apart.
Last week, the Mayor's Office said the city's sentiments were the same as those issued in a statement by Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville on May 13 that said, "All the complaints stem from lack of maintenance and not from poor construction."
But after spending two hours Wednesday afternoon visiting nearly a dozen homes in Fairway Oaks, Curry said he no longer agrees that the cracking slabs seen in the homes are a result of lack of maintenance.
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.
According to a third-party building inspector, it takes at least 28 days for concrete to cure.
Nathaniel Borden, president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association, emailed Curry last week, inviting him to see the cracking slabs for himself.
"We've always had hope that some good was actually going to come out of this. But until we actually see action actually being done, until we see something on paper, we're not going to just take anyone's word for it," Borden said.
Curry told the residents he was appalled at their living conditions and he will be rapidly looking for a solution.
"I certainly saw some troubling things in the homes. Good, hard-working people out here that are just trying to get through life, which is what most of us are trying to do. I'm going to take what I saw here today, which are cracked foundations and a whole other set of issues that would frustrate me if I was the homeowner here, take it back, digest it," Curry said. "But we have to figure this out and address this issue as well."
Curry expressed his concerns to the residents, who are desperate to be relocated.
"I grew up in a working class family. And I grew up experiencing what it means to get a home and see my parents get a home, pay my mortgage on my home and take pride in my home. And I can tell you that if they were experiencing this, there would have been much frustration and disappointment," Curry said.
Residents said they want the mayor to know they are thankful for him taking the time to come out to their homes.
"I was able to walk side-by-side with him and talk to him as we go along," said homeowner Shirley Dempsey. "To see him, look in his eyes, when he saw that, I myself had to walk away because I saw what was in his heart when he saw that. Who could look at that and not feel it?"
When asked by residents if new homes being built by HabiJax could be used for the residents in Fairway Oaks, Curry said every option is on the table.
"We have to sit down and vet it and discuss it," Curry said. "Every single option should be laid out on the table."
Curry said he will meet with Borden next week and reach out to HabiJax.
"I think we have to sit down and evaluate all the options and do it thoughtfully. If I give a knee-jerk reaction to how, I want to make sure the commitments I make I can follow through on," Curry said. "One of the things I'm going to push and encourage is Habitat to get over here now and to get on this. And I'll circle back with you guys very shortly."
Residents point out issues in HabiJax built homes
Fairway Oaks resident Donna Johnson said she can't believe how her dream, and home, has crumbled over the past 16 years.
"This is a picture of me and look at what it said, 'Living my dream.' And that's what we thought it was, everybody out here. I'm in the window with my homebuilder and the most exciting time of my life," Johnson said.
I-TEAM: Fairway Oaks residents speak out
For the past few weeks, Johnson and other Fairway Oaks residents have been going to City Council meetings and speaking out about their problems to any city official who would listen.
"That's what hurts my soul and my spirit. We don't exist. We're nobody," Johnson said. "It's a living nightmare. I had dreams where I wake up and my home is sinking in the ground."
The I-TEAM walked through Johnson's home, finding cracks in her kitchen, hallway and outside in the concrete slab that is her home's foundation.
Johnson remembered building her home in 2000, alongside former President Jimmy Carter, former Mayor John Delaney and former Jacksonville Jaguars owners Wayne and Delores Weaver.
FROM THE VAULT: 2000 reports on Fairways Oaks construction
"It was a moment, a special moment, an exciting moment. I'm talking happy, happy, happy for all of us," Johnson said. "This is not the end. This is not supposed to be the end."
Next door, Johnson's neighbor Deanna Norris showed the I-TEAM the cracked foundation in her son's closet and shared her fears.
"My house is sinking. And I feel like one day I'm going to wake up and my house is going to be in the ground with me and my kids," Norris said.
Another neighbor, Carol Ridenour, pointed out to the I-TEAM the retention walls built later by HabiJax. She said it was an attempt to stop the homes from sinking.
"The ground here, to me, is like quicksand. As you walk, you sink down," Ridenour said. "My children say, 'Give the house back.' I say, 'Nobody wants this house. Nobody is going to buy this house. No one is going to rent this house, especially after seeing it on TV so much.'"
Down the street, Shirley Dempsey invited the I-TEAM inside the home she shares with her son, who is paraplegic.
"I've had my stove pulled out since 2005," Dempsey said.
For over a decade, Dempsey has lived like that. She showed the I-TEAM the cracks behind the stove, near the fridge.
"But look here, look there, look at this hole," Dempsey said.
Dempsey said she even ripped up all the carpet in her home in order to know what's breaking next.
"This is not bad maintenance. This is bad construction," Dempsey said.