Code enforcers inspect Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex

8 of 19 apartment buildings condemned; 36 households seeking assistance

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Many families are out of their homes after Jacksonville's code inspectors went in and shut down portions of a troubled apartment complex Tuesday.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the city of Jacksonville on Tuesday morning sent their Drug Abatement Response Team to Shannon Ridge Apartments in the 5100 block of Shenandoah Avenuea in Northwest Jacksonville.

Eight of 19 buildings and a total of 63 apartment units were condemned. There were 36 households seeking temporary assistance from the city after being displaced.

Inspectors went into apartments to inspect the structural code of each unit. They didn't have warrants, so they had to receive permission from residents.

"(Inspectors) simply knock on the door. If (residents) want to let them in, they let them in. If not, we go on to the next apartment," JSO spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda said.

The issues inspectors were looking for included things like exposed wires and cracked walls.

"They got the health inspector or whatever that is with them, and they're just checking apartments, checking for leaks and cracks and all of that kind of stuff," one tenant said.

Tenants said they had no warning. Many people like Tyesha Williams had only hours to move all her stuff.

"We have to stay in a shelter," Williams said. "That's my main concern. I have kids. We have kids. You know what I'm saying? When they get out of school, how are we suppose to explain that to them?"

"They don't give a crap about us ," said Joshua Johnson. "People got kids out here, they shut the lights off. Some of us went grocery shopping yesterday, their food is going to waste. I have three kids, then they tell me a shelter."

A few residents showed up at a shelter set up by Red Cross Monday night. The Red Cross set up cots and made restrooms available for those who needed a place to stay. 

The Red Cross said it doesn't typically get involved in similar cases.

 "We were asked to cooperate with the city. We were happy to do it," said Red Cross representative Evelyn Penney.  

Many people chose not to use the shelter because they didn't feel it was a safe place despite on-duty police stationed outside the building.

Chante Minnis' minister offered her a new home. Minnis said the short moving notice means she will have to take off time from work and her children will miss school Wednesday so the family can move.

"We have to make multiple trips -- getting a U-haul was out of the question," said Minnis. "My children are very young and they don't know what's going on. My son came home from school and said, 'Mommy, why are we packing up?'" 

The city said the apartments have been a problem for years. The Sheriff's Office said last year it received nearly 600 calls about the complex. Of those calls, 123 were for disputes, 38 for noise complaints, 20 for suspicious people and 18 for discharging firearms.

Monica Kohn went to help her 47-year-old uncle move out by the 5 p.m. deadline.

"I just feel awful for the other people out here, though, especially with the small kids, you know?" Kohn said. "There are some people complaining about, they just paid their rent yesterday, so what are those families going to do? That's the sad part about it. You know, they don't have any more money."

"What do I do with my belongings? I'm scared to leave it in," Williams said. "If somebody sees the apartment vacated, they might come in and take everything, and I'm going to have to start over. It's kind of between a rock and a hard place."

Two people were arrested Tuesday at the complex on outstanding warrants.

DART inspections can often end in the condemnation of an apartment complex, forcing it to shut down. As a result of Tuesday's inspections, the city and the Red Cross were offering temporary assistance in case residents were displaced because of code violations. They set up a shelter at Legends Center near Soutel Drive and Moncrief Road, where one family stayed Tuesday.

Displaced residents who apply for assistance can receive aid for a deposit or utilities for another residence, up to $1,250. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority provided transportation assistance.

The Duval County Health Department said there was one active, non-infectious case of tuberculosis at the apartment complex. That person receives pills each day from the Health Department. Out of abundance of caution, free screenings were being offered to anyone who wanted them.

City Councilman Reggie Brown, who represents District 10 in Northwest Jacksonville, said he'd be happy to see the apartment complex go, but he's not happy to see all its families forced out on the streets.

"We're not just trying to displace folks. We do want to make sure they have a quality life, and that's not what's happening here," Brown said.

He said if he had his choice, he'd simply knock down the apartment buildings.

"As a district council person, I would level this down and several other areas in Jacksonville," Brown said of the apartments. "No one should be forced to live like this."

Brown said the apartment complex is a source of prostitution and drugs.

"If you're paying to live somewhere, then the owner of that property has a responsibility to maintain it, and clearly that's what is not happening out here today," Brown said.

Records show the complex is owned by a Miami-based company, Jorkin Jax LLC, that purchased the complex in June. Brown said the property is managed by American Management in Atlantic Beach.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.