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Fairway Oaks Residents To Protest HabiJax Friday

Lindsey Kilbride
Fairway Oaks resident Shirley Dempsey was stepping over wide cracks in her home’s cement foundation, Thursday afternoon.";

Residents of the Fairway Oaks neighborhood on Jacksonville’s Northside said the city should not give more money to HabiJax without first fixing the homes the nonprofit built.

The residents, who say their houses were poorly constructed, plan to protest Friday morning.

Fairway Oaks resident Shirley Dempsey was stepping over wide cracks in her home’s cement foundation, Thursday afternoon.

“It comes all the way from up under the refrigerator and it goes out all the way,” she said while standing in her kitchen’s doorway.

Her Habijax-built home, built in 2000, doesn’t have any carpet. She said a vision in a dream 10 years ago told her to rip it out, and when she did, she found the damage. Many of her neighbors’ homes are in a similar state.

“The walls are cracked up. The boards are coming from against the wall,” she said.

Outside on her front porch she pulled out a folder of documents and bags of soil sampled from around her house she had tested.

She and her neighbors have been trying to resolve the issue for years with help from Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. She believes Habijax and the city are both to blame for the faulty homes.

The local housing authority sold land near an old landfill to HabiJax, which developed  in 2000.

Now, City Council is considering awarding the Jacksonville branch of Habitat for Humanity more than $840,000 to build homes.

“We are concerned about Habitat continuing here in the city of Jacksonville, building homes that will not last,” Dempsey said.

The bill allocating the money passed in committees this week, but some members, like Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, were hesitant to vote yes.  

“I am one of those councilmembers who is sitting here just saying, ‘What can we do? And can we really give another $800,000 to your efforts to build new homes?’ ” she said.

Habijax CEO Mary Kay O’Rourke said the nonprofit has operated without city money for the last seven years, and built about 170 homes during that time.

She told Council members this week, HabiJax had a civil engineer inspect 51 Fairway Oaks homes three years ago, and only one was identified as having structural problems.

“After that, we offered to repair that home,” O’Rourke said.

She also provided this statement to our partner News4Jax in May:

“Every home in Fairway Oaks was inspected by the City of Jacksonville and passed final inspection in the year 2000. We had complaints from some residents in 2005. We took the complaints seriously and had independent engineers and contractors address issues of concern. Homes were re-inspected by the City in 2007. Reports from both inspections stated there were no construction-related problems, Florida Building Code violations or structural failures. "In 2007, the professional engineer for the City of Jacksonville stated: ‘In my professional opinion and that of the State of Florida licensed building inspectors present, we concur that the problems at Fairway Oaks are not construction code violations or code related but rather post construction and/or neglected maintenance problems.' "In 2013, our organization contracted a licensed senior civil engineer who conducted a similar inspection of more than 51 homes. He stated: ‘It is the engineer’s opinion that all the complaints stem from lack of maintenance and not from poor construction." "The homeowners are represented by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and HabiJax cannot make additional comment regarding further resolution."

News4jax also reports, a third-party building inspector later found growing cracks and lowering elevations.

Still, council members, like Garrett Dennis, say Habijax is innocent until proven guilty and shouldn’t be denied funding.

“This is an organization that’s making a difference  in an area, in a neighborhood without any city funding,” he said. “And now that they are asking for city funding I believe it’s our obligation to put a little skin in the game.”

The bill being considered doesn't fund just Habijax construction. Most of the roughly $2.5 million  would be split between other affordable housing developers. The full City Council will vote on the housing bill next week. 

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.