JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville nonprofit and a developer plan to buy and renovate two troubled apartment complexes on the Eastside the I-TEAM first exposed back in 2021 for unsanitary and unsafe conditions. It’s a deal that’s years in the making.
The Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens Apartments are privately owned but many residents get free or reduced rent from HUD. Both complexes are about a mile north of TIAA Bank Field and the sports complex.
The I-TEAM has spent significant time at the Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens apartments, documenting the bad conditions. Trash, rodents, mold, and plumbing issues are just to a few of the problems residents said they were dealing with.
The building’s stairwells were crumbling and common areas were dirty.
“The fact that the slumlord at Eastside Gardens and Eastside Terrace Apartments has gotten away with forcing tenants to live in ‘life-threatening’ conditions for this long is stomach-churning,” Rubio said in a statement to the I-TEAM in 2021. “Andrew Podray is a slumlord who should be held accountable for his actions. HUD must pursue any and all further enforcement mechanisms necessary to protect the tenants at both properties.”
Miriam Patton, who has lived here on and off since the 1970s when she was 10, said he’s seen a lot of ups and downs.
“We’ve had people that come in and say they want to redo these apartments and fix them,” she said. “They come in for a while. And next thing we know they’re gone somewhere else somebody else is looking at it.”
She’s cautiously optimistic about a change that could be coming. The nonprofit LIFT JAX and a private developer have plans to buy the troubled complexes and renovate them from top to bottom. Both the potential buyer and seller said the purchase price is $6.2 million and they hope to finalize the sale in August.
“We’ve been focused on these for two to three years in terms of the unsanitary living conditions, the lack of safety, the poor property management,” said David Garfunkel, the president of LIFT JAX. “And we know that there are some families who have been in here for years and years and years. And so it is our goal, as we seek to revitalize the neighborhood and bring services to the neighborhood, that these apartments would become high quality housing, once again, they were at one point, but they fallen into a state of disrepair.”
He notes it’s part of a bigger plan to revitalize the neighborhood with education, infrastructure, and jobs.
His group recently unveiled a new playground across the street and is already redoing the historic Deb’s Store. It’ll be a grocery store with fresh produce and meats in an area that right now only has convenience marts. The plan is to run it locally and hire within the community.
Garfunkel said the plan to renovate is to minimize interruptions to residents.
“Our process is to make sure that this is as the least amount disruptive as possible to current residents,” he said. “So in the event that we need to do a significant rehab to unit that current residents, then what we’ll do first is fix up another unit and move that family into that unit while we repair their, their unit. So it may be the case that somebody needs to move, but we’re going to do everything we can possible to make sure it’s within the same complex and it’s not disruptive to their lives.”
American Housing Enterprises has owned the sister properties for 2 decades. Senator Marco Rubio took aim at the company by calling the owner, Andrew Podray, a slumlord.
Podray has been vocal with the I-TEAM about the issues and the investigations into his properties. He said he felt railroaded by Rubio and the federal government and has been forced to sell his assets in a limited time.
“Unfortunately, I lost millions in this endeavor, because part of the setup that comes from painting me as a slumlord, if you will, in this particular case, is remember one of the terms of our settlement is that I would have to solve quickly,” he said. “Well, when you have to sell quickly, you’re dealing with them Much smaller pool of buyers.”
The I-TEAM reported the federal government fined Podray’s company $600,000 for the violations. He agreed to a settlement with HUD to sell the properties for a much smaller fine and he won’t own a HUD complex for at least 2 years. He claims the federal agency didn’t provide him with enough money to keep up with the aging buildings. Podray sent the I-TEAM his personal records documenting a loss of more than $540k in 2022. That’s with the mortgage paid off.
He said the federal rent schedule was not keeping up with inflation, paying a 1% announce increase with inflation much higher.
“What happens is, is you can only absorb so many 1% increases per year, while real inflation is ticking along at four or 5%, or more recently, even higher So over time, now you start to lose money,” he said.
As for Miriam Patton, she wants to stay at the complex, but she hopes for improvements, for every resident.
“Don’t just promise to say, I’m going to get it done,” she said, addressing complex owners and government leaders. “Because we’ve made a lot of promises and so far, nothing much has happened.”
The contract is now in the hands of federal officials with HUD. They will make the decision to approve or deny the deal. If there’s an approval, both the seller and the buyer told the I-TEAM they’re ready to make it official.
The I-TEAM reached out to Senator Marco Rubio and HUD officials for comment on this story. Representatives with both said they were working on more details.