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Bill would hold owners accountable for poor housing conditions

Bill would require HUD to survey tenants at complexes like Eureka Gardens

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation filed Thursday by two Florida senators would help thousands of low-income families living in federally-subsidized housing, such as Eureka Gardens in Jacksonville.

The legislation, filed by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, would, among other things, require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to survey tenants living in subsidized housing twice a year about property conditions and management performance, and create new penalties for property owners who repeatedly fail the tenant surveys.
 
Surveying tenants directly would give residents an opportunity to report any issues directly to HUD without fear of reprisal from owners and managers who have been known to threaten to evict tenants who try to complain, the senators said in a news released.
 
The legislation comes in the wake of recent local and federal investigations that found deplorable living conditions at several subsidized-housing properties in Florida, including Eureka Gardens, which has been the subject of a months-long I-TEAM investigation.
 
“Everyone deserves a safe and clean place to call home,” Nelson said. “This bill will help ensure that the owners of federally-subsidized housing are held accountable for the condition of their properties, and it will give tenants the opportunity to file complaints directly with HUD, without fear of reprisal.”
 
“In addition to legislation I’ve passed to improve the HUD inspection process, hold slumlords accountable for endangering people, and grant tenants needed temporary relocation assistance, I’m proud to partner with Senator Nelson on this effort to give a greater voice to tenants living in public housing and make sure they never feel too intimidated to speak out,” Rubio said. “I’ve seen the unsafe and unhealthy living conditions forced on the tenants at Global Ministries properties in Jacksonville and Orlando, and I’ve talked with residents about the history of mismanagement and refusal to make even the most basic improvements and repairs. We have public housing in Florida and across the country being mismanaged by these slumlords who are stealing federal tax dollars, and this needs to end.”
 
The recently completed investigations of several housing projects in Florida found instances of mold, structural deficiencies, leaky water and gas pipes, water damage, roach infestations, window damage, and lead poisoning.
 
The legislation Nelson and Rubio filed seeks to address some of the shortcomings investigators found during their inspections of Eureka Gardens and Windsor Cove in Orlando -- including the housing agency’s overdependence on often unreliable third-party property inspections and a lack of direct communication with their tenants -- that contributed to the poor conditions at both properties going unrepaired for so long.
 
The bill now heads to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee for consideration.