JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Residents of the Fairway Oaks neighborhood who have been fighting for years to get repairs to what they call "poorly built HabiJax homes" protested Friday outside the Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville offices.
For months, the News4Jax I-TEAM has been digging into reports that show the area on Jacksonville’s Northside, in which HabiJax chose to build 85 homes in 2000, is located near a landfill that may not have been lined in the 1950s.
Within a few 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.
But HabiJax and the city blamed the problems on poor maintenance. The I-TEAM brought an independent inspector in who said maintenance was not the problem.
Over the last few years, Nathaniel Borden, president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association, has been collecting reports, documents and serving as the voice of residents who feel that HabiJax, the Housing Commission and the city of Jacksonville haven't doing anything to help them get reimbursed or relocated from their homes.
About a dozen demonstrators held signs and chanted outside the HabiJax offices on Hubbard Street and succeeded in gaining an invitation from HabiJax CEO Mary Kay O'Rourke to come inside and talk with her.
“I wanted to let them know that we are also looking for a reasonable resolution,” O'Rourke said. “We have been since these concerns were first brought to our attention in 2006. But it is a legal process, and we have to go through that process.”
After a 30-minute chat inside the offices, some residents said that while they appreciated meeting with O'Rourke, the didn't feel her promises were enough.
“Mary Kay O'Rourke did not offer anything during the meeting,” Borden said. “She basically just wanted to let us know that she does hear us, and that they are working on it. But, my thing was, you've been working on this for 10 years.”
The demonstrators, who took their protest to City Hall later, vowed they won't give up until they see real change.
“We had not spoken to Mary Kay one-on-one in quite a while. It was some relief to know that she does care,” Borden said. “They should at least meet halfway in the middle and find a solution, then we can get this resolved.”
O'Rourke said the HabiJax continues to work with soil inspectors and the nonprofit knows of only one home that is a problem. She said HabiJax offered to fix it in 2013, but the homeowner refused.
She said she's hopeful now they can come together for a final solution.
“I am very optimistic. And, you know, hopefully we can do that without litigation,” O'Rourke said. “But that is the final result if we can't come up with a reasonable resolution.”
Borden said that part of the problem was that lawyers on both sides weren’t communicating enough.
Mayor Lenny Curry and state Sen. Audrey Gibson have both toured the homes at Fairway Oaks and vowed to help the families.
HabiJax was recently approved for $800,000 in grant money from the Jacksonville Housing and Community Development Commission to build 25 homes. That money still has to be approved by City Council.
Curry's office released a statement Friday about Fairway Oaks:
The mayor has continued to honor the commitments he made to Fairway Oaks residents during his visit. Members of his administration have made subsequent visits, participated in a number of meetings and conversations, and consulted with environmental agencies. As Mr. (Sam) Mousa, chief administrative officer, advised during the last City Council meeting, we have agreed to help improve/restore communications between the legal teams of Habijax and Fairway Oaks by facilitating a meeting where the two parties can discuss and resolve their issues."