I-TEAM: Troubled Eastside apartment complexes under new ownership, renovations to come in next 60 days

The I-TEAM initially found mice, roaches and piles of garbage at Eastside Terrace, and our report prompted Sen. Marco Rubio to bring his own team in to investigate both properties owned by Andrew Podray. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville nonprofit and a developer have purchased a pair of troubled apartment complexes on the city’s eastside, paving the way for renovations and property improvements. Nonprofit LIFT JAX and real estate company Joined Development announced on Tuesday that they official purchased Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens for $6.2 million. The agreement was years in the making. They expect to begin renovations within 60 days.

They said the deal will “dramatically improve living conditions for nearly 100 families and future residents.” Together, the units have about 270 bedrooms.

The News4JAX I-TEAM first reported the two affordable housing complexes had been in disrepair in 2021, with unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the units and around the property.

The I-TEAM exposed rats, roaches, mold, and trash throughout the properties. It prompted a raid from the city of Jacksonville’s code enforcement, a visit from Senator Marco Rubio’s district office, fire marshal inspections, and a more than $600,000 fine from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD officials approved the deal, where LIFT JAX and Joined Development bought the properties from Andrew Podray, the longtime landlord who did business as American Housing Enterprises.

Podray has been vocal with the I-TEAM about the issues and the investigations into his properties. He told the I-TEAM in August 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.”

David Garfunkel, the president of LIFT JAX, said the sale is a victory for the community.

“Over the years, we have listened to residents share their needs for safe, stable housing, which led us to our partnership with Joined Development,” Garfunkel said. “We know there is much work to come to bring these apartments to the standard we strive for, but we are optimistic that alongside Eastside residents, we will make this a welcoming home for generations to come.”

The renovations will begin with installing security cameras and new lighting. Crews will renovate about 30 vacant units at the same time. This will open the door for more families and will be a backup plan for units that need severe renovations.

The owners said they will also update the management office and include a space for a social services coordinator. Joined Management will run the properties along with community partners.

“Both partners plan to be on-site from day one to get to know residents and understand the desired services that will best meet their needs,” the new owners wrote in a joint statement.

Resident Miriam Patton said she wants to stay at the complex, but she hopes for improvements for every resident. She was cautiously optimistic about the new ownership.

“Don’t just promise ‘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.”

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.”

Eastside Gardens is located at 1212 East First Street and Eastside Terrace is located at 1230 East Seventh Street.

LIFT JAX recently renovated a playground at Flossie Brunson Eastside Park, near the complexes. It includes a sprots field, basketball court, and a splashpad is under construction.

LIFT JAX is also working to reopen the Debs Store on Florida Avenue at Fifth Street. 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.

About the Author:

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