Florida senators look to hold HUD accountable for neglected properties

ITEAM investigation uncovered rats, roaches and rank conditions in Section 8 housing in Jacksonville

File photo from July 14, 21021 -- The I-TEAM finds mice, roaches and piles of garbage at Eastside Terrace. Our report prompts Sen. Marco Rubio to bring his own team in to investigate both properties owned by Andrew Podray. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s a renewed push to improve public housing in the Sunshine State and make it safer for the people who live there.

The new bill, filed by Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, goes hand in hand with an April I-TEAM investigation on failing Section 8 housing in Jacksonville.

Rubio accused the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and property owners of neglecting low-income complexes, even after properties with violations are reprimanded. The new bill would create a system to hold the government, along with the property owners, more accountable.

The proposed changes would aim to help tenants like Lisa Manners, who is a resident of Eastside Terrace Apartments.

In April, the ITEAM uncovered the HUD complex had a mice infestation and other life-threatening living conditions. In July, several issues were still uncorrected. Residents said the problems were worse than they had ever been and that they needed immediate action because their health was at stake. It’s December now. Manners told the ITEAM the repairs are not satisfactory.

“It’s a Band-Aid. Just for temporary. They ain’t (sic) fixing the problem. They’re patching up, but why patch up when they have the resources and money to fix it? Gut (the apartments) out,” Manners said.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio will introduce the HUD Health and Safety Accountability Act on Monday. Senator Rick Scott is co-sponsoring it. The bill would give tenants a voice and a path to get things fixed. More importantly, if that doesn’t happen, there will be consequences for the property owners.

Jacksonville councilman Garrett Dennis doesn’t see eye to eye with Rubio or Scott on many issues. The men are politicians in opposing parties, but Dennis said he believes this bill is a step in the right direction.

“It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a human-life issue. I think the local (politicians) should take the lead in the sense that it is in our jurisdiction.

The bill as proposed would:

  • Make mandatory HUD inspections better
  • Hold property managers more accountable for safer conditions
  • Survey tenants about living conditions
  • Give renters resources if they have problems
  • And, local code enforcement would have more power to investigate problems with conditions.

“No one should have to live in fear of their health and safety, and I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure decent, safe, and sanitary housing for Florida families,” a partial statement from Senator Rubio reads.

RELATED: Answers to 3 commonly asked questions about tenants’ legal rights

If the bill becomes law, most of its new rules would take effect within 180 days.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.