Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made his first trip to Jacksonville for a tour of the troubled Eureka Garden housing complex Tuesday.
He met with residents and local officials, laying out his plans to reform the public housing system.
Millennia Property Management spokesman Jeff Crossman took Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Al Lawson through two Eureka Garden apartments as part of Carson’s visit.
The first apartment is dingy, missing electrical outlet covers and there are cracks in the floor. Next door is a different story. That unit is clean and has had minor repairs. Crossman said if his company buys the federally subsidized property, every apartment will be redone.
“This is going to be gutted and refinished,” he said.
Cleveland-based Millennia manages Eureka, while the Tennessee-based Global Ministries Foundation owns it. Millennia is appealing a March inspection failure, as Carson arrived on his nationwide listening tour.
Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with little housing policy experience, said Eureka tenants’ organization is a model for the country.
“When people get together and begin to advocate for themselves and then they have some local representatives that are willing to stand by their side, it’s really quite amazing what can be accomplished,” he said.
He said he wants more housing project residents to create tenant unions like Eureka’s, and he wants to provide families with savings accounts for down payments on homes, as well as create community centers and health clinics onsite at complexes federally-subsidized complexes.
Carson also said he’d like to see nationwide standardization of HUD inspection protocol. But with President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to his department, some have asked whether that’s promising too much.
“I don’t really see a correlation between budget cuts and doing good inspections,” he said.
Millennia Properties has until late May to shape up or the federal government could completely take over the complex.
Rubio told reporters in addition to the extra federal inspections, he and his colleagues in Congress would continue visiting the complex “every couple of months.”
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Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.