73ºF

Top HUD official has checkered financial record

I-TEAM uncovers leins, complaints against HUD Regional Dir. Ed Jennings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – He makes nearly $180,000 a year -- your tax dollars pay his salary. But, the I-TEAM has uncovered the regional director of HUD, Ed Jennings, may be stiffing local contractors and forcing a public library to operate in unsanitary conditions -- all this as HUD remains under the microscope for failures at Eureka Gardens.

Jennings is a former state representative from Alachua County and was appointed to his top HUD position by President Barack Obama in 2010. He oversees HUD operations in eight states -- including Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico. His political roots are in Gainesville -- where media reports said he owed back taxes while serving as a state representative. He lost his election bid when that became public, but the I-TEAM found that may just ne the tip of the iceberg for Jennings.

HUD Regional Director Jennings has addressed tenants at Eureka Gardens several times over the course of the I-TEAM's year-long investigation into the apartment complex. From mold concerns, to tenant issues with the property owner -- The Global Ministries Foundation -- our investigation exposed HUD's inspection process failed at Eureka Gardens and beyond. But neither Jennings nor anyone else from HUD showed up on Capitol Hill in September to answer to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee.  Florida's two U.S. Senators were there and testified about the I-TEAM's findings.

"The slumlords at Global Ministries Foundation caused this problem, but HUD enabled it," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, told the committee.

"It is totally not acceptable they didn't respond to you and I suggest a subpoena to haul them in here," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida. 

That same committee sent a letter to the leader of HUD, Secretary Julian Castro, writing, "We are deeply troubled that you have refused to testify on this important issue..." "Your inaction suggests serious negligence with respect to oversight of housing quality, to the detriment of many families."

The I-TEAM has found more problems for the regional HUD director. Jennings owns a private business in Gainesville, Northeast Renaissance Holdings. It leases properties to tenants - including a public library in Gainesville. We obtained emails between Jennings and library leadership where they describe Jennings as "an unresponsive landlord."

In an April email, the library's director writes. "Ed...I would hate to have to close the entire facility down but if you don't respond, I have no other choice." The director outlines problems of "mold and mildew issues" adding "you ignored us on addressing the roof leak." The email goes on to talk about plumbing issues such as a "toilet...not flushing" and "water backing up."

The lease shows the library pays Jennings' company more than $10,000 a month in rent -- every penny paid for by taxpayers.

The I-TEAM also obtained a lien against Jennings for failing to pay $1,600 to a contractor for a mold assessment. It was done at the library in April. The lien was filed in August.

The I-TEAM emailed Jennings about this on October 3. Jennings never responded to us, but did pay that lien days later on October 12. Then, the next week, we found a new lien against Jennings' company -- this time for much more. It's for $21,000 and it's still not paid.

Jennings' financial troubles go deeper. The I-TEAM found Jennings was sued last year by a bank for failing to make payments on a $100,000 loan. That was settled out of court. And the year before, in 2014, Jennings and his wife were evicted from their Atlanta home for failing to pay rent.

We checked public records. Jennings' annual salary is $179,700, and as a federal government employee, he's paid with your tax dollars.

The I-TEAM has reached out to Jennings several times for a response, trying again today, but have not heard back.


About the Authors: