Senator: May need to subpoena HUD secretary

Committee demands answers after Castro fails to testify at hearing

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. He previously served as mayor of San Antonio.

WASHINGTON - The secretary for Housing and Urban Development may be subpoenaed to testify about inspections for HUD-assisted facilities, including Jacksonville's Eureka Gardens, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina said Wednesday.

Scott, who was the chairman of the subcommittee hearing on Global Ministries Foundation, which owns Eureka Gardens, made the comments during a radio interview with WJNO on Wednesday.

"It appears the only way to get Secretary (Julian) Castro to testify is to subpoena him, which may be our only alternative," said Scott. "Out of the thousands of employees they have in Washington, DC, they haven't been able to find one that's had enough time to come before the United States Senate and testify on why in the world they're not doing a better job protecting the very people they're supposed to be in office to protect."

Scott said HUD has had the resources to do inspections but in the last couple of years, it's allowed the number of private inspectors to be cut in half.

"Unfortunately the very people, the poorest most dependent folks who are trying to scrape their way out of a bad situation, they are not receiving assistance from this administration," said Scott.

The I-TEAM helped shed light on deplorable living conditions at some of those facilities with a series of investigative reports about Eureka Gardens and other Jacksonville housing complexes owned by the Rev. Richard Hamlet's Global Ministries Foundation.

The I-TEAM was in Washington in September, when HUD Secretary Julian Castro failed to testify at a Senate subcommittee hearing that was called to look into HUD's inspection process at federally subsidized properties.

Scott's comments come two days after he and Senator Richard Shelby sent a letter to Castro, telling him they're "deeply troubled" he has "refused to testify on this important issue."

The senators' letter to Castro asserts that despite being fully funded, HUD has:

  • Allowed the number of private certified inspectors to decline by half
  • Reduced the number of training days required for inspector certification
  • Allowed the number of quality assurance inspectors to decline by nearly two-thirds
  • Waived requirements that units with failing scores be reinspected by quality insurance inspectors within 60 days of a failed inspections
  • Violated federal regulations requiring annual re-inspection for under-performing properties (some of which were not reinspected for more than four years)
  • Drastically reduced management and occupancy reviews – a critical fail-safe for standard physical inspections – due to a prolonged procurement dispute.

“In other words, each year you have withheld millions of dollars that Congress appropriated for physical inspections of HUD-assisted properties,” the senators wrote to Castro. “Your inaction suggests serious negligence with respect to oversight of housing quality, to the detriment of many families.”

The letter requests that Castro provide information to the Banking Committee about HUD’s physical inspections and personnel for every year since 2005, including the number of physical inspections by certified inspectors, the number of HUD-employed quality assurance inspectors and a report of all multifamily properties that have received physical inspections scores below 60 or with unsatisfactory management reviews in the past 36 months.

The requests are meant to identify HUD's largest shortcomings, particularly in the inspection process for federally subsidized housing facilities.

Rubio released a statement Tuesday about the senators' demands:

I appreciate the Senate Banking Committee’s investigation into HUD’s broken inspection process, which is failing many Floridians and endangering the health and safety of residents. It’s important that we find out why HUD kept taxpayer dollars flowing to a slumlord like GMF, and hold accountable those who gave passing grades to buildings that were clearly unsafe and unhealthy for people to live in. I support the requests made in this letter and urge HUD to fully cooperate with the committee.”

The senators gave Castro a Dec. 5 deadline to provide all the requested documents and information.

The I-TEAM has contacted HUD for comment but we have not heard back yet.

Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.