The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has voided the passing score Eureka Garden received in its last HUD inspection.
HUD Field Office Director Alesia Scott-Ford said the move is extremely rare. It came after a meeting Wednesday morning with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other city leaders.
Scott-Ford said HUD feels that the owner of the complex, Rev. Richard Hamlet with the Global Ministries Foundation, "has not been aggressive enough with his repairs." Hamlet "has not had enough maintenance crews out at the property," she said.
Scott-Ford said HUD also plans to restructure the property management at the complex.
Hamlet, who also owns five other complexes in Jacksonville, previously told News4Jax he was happy with his property management's efforts to correct problems at Eureka Garden.
Scott-Ford said, "Something like this will definitely cause us to pay more attention to the properties that are owned by Global and it also kind of alerts us to what could be going on with some of the other developments."
Scott-Ford said Tuesday that HUD plans to inspect every unit in the complex and will also meet with the tenants of Eureka Garden, who first brought their deplorable living conditions to light after a HUD inspector gave the complex a passing score of 85b.
"All 400 units will be inspected, and we want the tenants of Eureka to know that we truly care about them and we're concerned about their health and safety and we're doing everything feasible to accommodate them to make sure they have safe, sanitary and decent housing to live in," Scott-Ford said.
A 46-page report compiled by a HUD inspector failed to note most of the problems uncovered in a two-day inspection sweep conducted by the city.
The inspector issued a passing score of 85b for the complex in August, but residents protested loudly to News4Jax and city officials, saying their living conditions were deplorable.
Scott-Ford says revoking the score is due to a mix-up in the inspection process.
She says the contracted inspector bidded for a 200-unit complex, but Eureka Garden is 400 units.
Scott-Ford said, "Two properties, Eureka one and Eureka two had been merged into one development."
The inspector looked at half of the complex, awarding it a score of 85 out of 100.
The city's two-day raid uncovered code violations in 163 out of 400 units.
Crumbling stairs with rust and holes were found as a major problem throughout the complex. Windows that weren't in working order in case of an emergency, carbon monoxide concerns and a collapsed ceiling in one unit were all absent from the HUD report
City inspectors spotted many exterior issues, including a column detached from a building, leaking AC units dripping from window after window, a broken gas line, and exposed wires all over the property just steps from where children play.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, who represents Eureka Garden's district, was also at the meeting with HUD on Wednesday, along with representatives from city code enforcement and the fire marshal's office.
The complex's passing score of 85 on the HUD inspection plays into the $3 million in taxpayer money awarded to Eureka Garden annually.
Rep. Corrine Brown said she has serious questions for Hamlet.
An audit revealed that in one year, Hamlet's company netted profits of more than a half-million dollars while only spending $242,757 on repairs for all six properties - or just 3 percent of the $7 million his nonprofit received in taxpayer dollars through HUD.
"We pay him for those residents, so these are tax dollars, and we've got to make sure we're using tax dollars wisely," Brown said. "Anything else is unacceptable."
Hamlet was not at Wednesday's meeting.
He told News4Jax that he's proud of the progress he's made at Eureka Garden since he bought it three years ago.
News4Jax has asked for comment from Hamlet about the meeting, but we have not heard back yet.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw is scheduled to meet with HUD Thursday.
"It's appalling that these conditions exist in housing that is subsidized by the federal government," Crenshaw said in a statement. "Eureka Garden tenants - more than 50 percent of them under the age of 17 - deserve safety and peace of mind when it comes to their homes. There are many questions to be answered as we determine where accountability lies.
"The bottom line: the situation must be corrected. I welcome further inspections and have asked for a meeting with HUD's field office director to learn more details and how to prevent these circumstances from happening in the first place."
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