May 13 2016
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today visited the Eureka Garden federal housing complex in Jacksonville, Florida, which has been plagued for months by mismanagement leading to dangerous and inhumane living conditions. Rubio met with tenants and their representatives to address these issues and was joined by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Councilman Garrett Dennis, Pastor Mark Griffin of Wayman Ministries and Tenant Association President Tracy Grant.
“This existing company, they have 11 other properties in the area, they have over 60 properties around the country. And when I get back to Washington Monday, my hope is that we’ll have all of those properties examined and these people put out of business because what they do to people is outrageous,” said Rubio. “It’s a slumlord, pure and simple. And my hope is that we can even get the Justice Department interested in this a little bit, and see how people are being treated this way.
“That’s what’s really got our efforts ramped up to hopefully do three things: Number one, change the criteria. We need to change this system that they use for judging these properties, because clearly, this property is not habitable for humans,” continued Rubio. “Second is to change the contracts so that we have more leverage over these owners. And third is examine how many other places are there like this. Because this model they put in place is a slumlord model.
“These people should never be allowed to have another contract from HUD again,” Rubio added. “And quite frankly, I honestly hope, and I’m going to ask the Justice Department, to look into this company, and look at the way they’re spending federal money because I think you could make the argument that they have stolen taxpayer money that was supposed to be used to provide for these people and instead have used it for their own gain.”
“[HUD]’s grading system is broken, and I think the Secretary is aware of that. It doesn’t take into account the sorts of things we saw here today, or it doesn’t give it enough account. And so that’s how you can get a passing score. So that whole thing needs to be re-examined and I think the Secretary says he’s open to doing that,” Rubio concluded.
Rubio’s office first got involved in the investigation of health and safety conditions over six months ago, following reports of code violations at the Westside complex. An October 2015 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) inspection found deficiencies in at least 340 of the 400 units, yet just three months earlier in July 2015, HUD gave Eureka Garden Apartments a passing score of an 85 out of 100 in its Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspection. Many repairs have been made to the property over the past several months, but the complex still received a low score of 62 out of 100 in a March 2016 inspection.
Among other efforts, Rubio has asked HUD Secretary Julián Castro to reform the agency’s inspection process so that problems can be identified sooner, and to expand the role of state and local partners to ensure greater accountability of HUD-certified facilities. He recently met with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis during a visit to Washington.
A partial transcript of the media avail is available below, and a video is available here.
The following photos are attributable to the Office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio:
Rubio tours Eureka Garden apartment complex:
Rubio speaks at a media avail following a tour of the Eureka Garden apartment complex:
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Media Avail at the Eureka Garden apartment complex
May 13, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “We first heard about this in October when it was reported in the news and so our staff came out here then and started looking at this because HUD plays a role in this, you know, federal taxpayer money is used through Section 8 to provide housing for people of low-income.
“And when my staffers came out here and saw the conditions, they were atrocious, truly unbelievable that Americans are living in conditions such as this, especially when it’s being paid for by the taxpayer.
“And the company that owns this was given the opportunity to remediate it and of course as we saw here today a lot of it hasn’t happened.
“Interestingly enough, when word got out that we would be visiting here, within 48 hours, a bunch of work crews started showing up to do some cosmetic work. And yet, despite that, I just left an apartment that hasn’t been painted in 13 years, where a small child lives in a room where the walls look like they haven’t been painted in 15 years.
“And then we visited another apartment, where the room… there’s no functional window, the window doesn’t open. The window still is broken. They came in and basically put glue to hold it together, but the window doesn’t open. If there’s a fire, this child could get trapped in there.
“And here’s why. Here’s the model. The model is you start at C4, a non-for-profit entity, so you don’t have to pay property tax. Of course you’re making a salary off of it, you’re collecting all of these sorts of contributions from Section 8 and you do the minimal amount of maintenance possible and you hope no one complains.
“And then what you do is you find a couple of tenants that live in there and you give them some extra special care and in return they become the spokesperson for the company in the building and they try to keep people like us out.
“And the only thing that’s a shame is that it took even longer to find this out. And had it not been for the courage of some of the tenants involved now, who were not afraid and were not intimidated and brought this to the attention of public officials, would it ever reach this level.
“This existing company, they have 11 other properties in the area, they have over 60 properties around the country. And when I get back to Washington Monday, my hope is that we’ll have all of those properties examined and these people put out of business because what they do to people is outrageous. It’s a slumlord, pure and simple.
“And my hope is that we can even get the Justice Department interested in this a little bit, and see how people are being treated this way.
“And obviously, the Councilman, the Mayor, and the tenants have been working really hard at this and I want to give them an opportunity to talk about it as well.”
Rubio: “My staffers found out about [Eureka Garden] when it was reported in the press here in October and I think they came out here and visited at the time and the conditions were really bad and we were following it through that process.
“And look, our initial hope was, ‘Okay, we found it. The owners are going to take ownership of this and they’re gonna get it fixed.’ That’s the ideal circumstance because you don’t want to see, you know, 800 people, 400 families, convicted. There’s not anywhere to take them right away.
“So our hope was that they would respond responsibly, that was our hope. Not to make a spectacle out of it, but to get it fixed. It didn’t happen. In fact, it’s been delay, after delay, after delay.
“Where we really ramped up our activity is when HUD came out here for a second time and inspected the property and passed it again. And I said to myself, ‘Well, how can it be that HUD, Housing and Urban Development, certifies that this property is habitable given the conditions we’ve seen here today?’
“And so that’s what’s really got our efforts ramped up to hopefully do three things: Number one, change the criteria. We need to change this system that they use for judging these properties, because clearly, this property is not habitable for humans.
“Second is to change the contracts so that we have more leverage over these owners. And third is examine how many other places are there like this. Because this model they put in place is a slumlord model.
“They setup a C4 which is a non-for-profit so they don’t have to pay property taxes, but they’re making a salary along with people associated with them. They take over this building, they get money from each of these residents from the federal government every month, and then, instead of buying a new refrigerator, they put the money in their pocket. And that’s what they’ve done here for a long time, and it’s an outrage.
“These people should never be allowed to have another contract from HUD again. And quite frankly, I honestly hope, and I’m going to ask the Justice Department, to look into this company, and look at the way they’re spending federal money because I think you could make the argument that they have stolen taxpayer money that was supposed to be used to provide for these people and instead have used it for their own gain.”
When asked if Rubio was calling for a criminal investigation, he replied…
Rubio: “Absolutely, these people have gotten paid for by the federal government from taxpayer money. They get money every month and that money is supposed to be used to maintain these apartments. And you have apartments here, I just saw one that hadn’t been painted in 13 years, they lived there.
“So where did the money that was supposed to go towards maintenance go? It went into their pocket. A supposed charity, but it’s nothing but a scam, and they’re nothing but slumlords.”
Rubio: “I spoke to Secretary Castro about it on the phone earlier, and in fairness to him, he inherited this criteria that’s being used to judge this. So one of the things he said is they’re going to look into changing the criteria to take into account things like bedbugs, and mold, and other things that aren’t getting enough points on the system it’s being judged by.
“The other thing, we’re going to have to redo the contract because right now the only two options they have are to take the contract away, or continue the contract, there’s no in between. There’s not a lot of options here.
“And one of the suggestions I had is to require Section 8 housing providers to post bond. To have a bond that they have to secure so that if they violate the contract, the federal government can collect against that bond in order to use that money to pay for the upgrades that are necessary. Right now we have nothing to collect against.
“Ultimately, the ideal outcome at this point are for the owners of this property to give it to someone else.”
Rubio: “At the initial stages of this, we come across cases like this all across the state. And that’s why we have offices in these places, so [staff] can come out and get involved.
“And our initial goal in all of this was not to create a media spectacle out of it. Our initial goal was to get with HUD, to get with the owners, and hopefully provide enough pressure or attention to get them to act. That was my hope… That they would actually act. That they would look at it and say, ‘Okay, we’ve got a problem. Let’s get it fixed and taken care of.’ But they basically haven’t. It’s been since October until now.
“And so finally, when that second criteria came out for grading, which we hoped would have showed the property have failed and trigger other remedies… When that happened, that’s when we felt we needed to come out and ramp it up a little bit more.”
Rubio: “[HUD]’s grading system is broken. And I think the Secretary is aware of that. It doesn’t take into account the sorts of things we saw here today, or it doesn’t give it enough account. And so that’s how you can get a passing score. So that whole thing needs to be re-examined and I think the Secretary says he’s open to doing that.”
Rubio: “What [Reverend Hamlet has] done is horrifying, I hope he gives these properties up. And we’re now going to look hopefully at the other properties that he owns because there’s no sense here that this is isolated. If this is the way they practice business, the likelihood is you’re going to find these conditions in other places.
“It’s our understanding that, in fact, there are other buildings around the country where they’ve had similar problems. I would say that their C4 status is some sort of a ministry that’s providing charitable care is laughable. It is just a way to avoid paying taxes.”
After comments of a supposed bidding war over Global Ministries Foundation because of its profitability, Rubio said…
Rubio: “Number one, I thought they were a not-for-profit. And number two, if it’s so profitable, what do they do with all the money they profited with? Because it didn’t go to new refrigerators and it didn’t go to paint jobs and it didn’t go to improving this facility.
“So there’s the question, if this is such an excellent economic model that they’re making so much money on, then where’s the money? Because it hasn’t been invested in here.”