JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Since fiscal year 2016, S.P. Hilltop LP, the company that owns the Hilltop Village Apartments in Northwest Jacksonville, has received $11.8 million in federal money as part of the owner’s contract to provide affordable housing to low-income families.
As part of that agreement, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is required to inspect the property every few years to ensure that the property owner is providing a safe and healthy living environment.
The News4Jax I-TEAM has uncovered a mice infestation in 13 of the 14 apartment buildings, triggering several politicians to call on HUD’s secretary to intervene. In addition, the I-TEAM has discovered HUD failed to inspect the Hilltop Village Apartments in 2017, a violation of its own rules. As a result, no one from HUD has inspected any of the apartments for nearly six years, since 2015.
Now we’re getting a better idea of how much money the owners have been receiving from the federal government including during the gap in inspections when no one from HUD was monitoring in person the living conditions there.
According to data that tracks government spending, S.P. Hilltop LP has received from the federal government:
|Fiscal year 2019||$1,952,496|
|Fiscal year 2020||$2,255,676|
|Fiscal year 2021||$1,532,175|
|Three year total||$5,740,347|
During this time period, tenants told the I-TEAM, they have been battling mice for at least two years. Sedricia Tinsley, a mother with three young children, said that when she complained to the property manager, she was told that “a maintenance worker would bring her some glue traps.”
Tinsley called the city’s code enforcement office when the infestation got worse. Even though an inspector found a “rodent infestation,” the property owner was never fined or penalized. Inspectors continued to visit Tinsley’s home to check to see if the problem had been fixed, and each time, the inspector noted the mice were still there. This continued for 11 months, without any fines or penalties levied against the owner.
Tenants living in other buildings on the property have shared similar stories of the property manager only providing glue traps to solve the problem. Another mother told us she called the property manager, “at least 15 times” to complain. Courtney James said: “I call corporate as well.”
But she said that didn’t help. “They called the front office and told them I called them and the lady from the front office actually got upset and came and told me that it’s normal to have mice because I live across the street from a graveyard site,” she said.
James is referring to the cemetery that is on the other side of the road from Hilltop Village. She said she sleeps with her 2-month-old daughter because she is too afraid mice might crawl into her daughter’s crib to leave her there alone.
We called the owners of the property to ask if they were aware of the rodent infestation. One told us “no comment” and hung up. The other has not returned our call for comment. The property management company, Cambridge Management, acknowledged that rodents have been a problem for at least two years and told us this when we contacted a spokesperson for comment when we first reported about the mice infestation:
Community management and ownership are fully committed to providing quality housing for our residents. As it became clear that standard treatments were not effective, the owners and management moved to more rigorous treatments. On April 22nd management signed a new contract as part of a customized plan for pest control treatment and work is underway.
The scope of work, as described in the contract includes “…concreting all roof returns and transitions, sealing all HVAC and utility entry/exit points, sealing all plumbing and gable vents, soffit repaired and secured where possible, replaced and secured where necessary. Installation of exclusion doors so animals can leave but not come back, interior trapping in the attics/crawl spaces until animals are all out, and sterilization of the attics/crawlspaces once completely removed...”
Residents have been provided with information about the work that has commenced and are encouraged to contact the office by phone, email or through the online resident portal with any concerns or questions about treatments.
Katelynn DeSart Perez
Marketing & Public Relations Specialist
Cambridge Management, Inc.
We also contacted HUD for an explanation about why it failed to inspect the property in 2017. Here is the response we received from a spokesperson:
HUD reinspects projects based on the score of the previous REAC inspection. Based on the previous score, a new inspection should have been completed roughly two years later (2017). New inspections are contracted and awarded on a periodic basis based on the funding which is available to the Department for this specific purpose. These inspections are prioritized by score and requests for reinspection. It should be noted that since March of 2020, REAC has halted new inspection due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated CDC Guidelines. New inspections will resume this summer and this project has been identified as a priority inspection once they resume.
According to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, HUD was expected to start its inspection of the Hilltop Village Apartments on Tuesday.