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VIDEO: Rubio Testifies at Senate Hearing on Global Ministries Foundation, HUD Inspections Process
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today testified at the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development’s hearing on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) inspections process. Rubio’s testimony was based on his experiences visiting Global Ministries Foundation properties in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Riviera Beach, where he observed deplorable and inhumane living conditions.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) also provided testimony about the deplorable conditions at the properties owned by Global Ministries Foundation, as did the president of the Eureka Gardens Tenants’ Association in Jacksonville, Ms. Tracy Grant.
For the past year, Rubio has worked to expose Global Ministries Foundation, which is now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In May, the Senate passed legislation that included three Rubio amendments to improve HUD’s oversight of public housing projects.
Video of Rubio’s remarks can be watched here and a downloadable broadcast quality version for TV stations is available here. A full transcript of Rubio’s testimony and dialogue with Ms. Grant is below.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
September 22, 2016
Mr. Chairman, thank you all for holding this hearing on this important issue. So the central mission of HUD is to provide safe and sanitary conditions for people receiving housing assistance. And so I think we’re all deeply disturbed to see taxpayer dollars being wasted like this, and disappointing that HUD failed to provide a witness here today.
I think what you will learn – you look into this deeper is in addition perhaps the negligence on the part of individuals at HUD and certainly the blame that falls on the hands of these slumlords that own and operate these buildings – we have a process that is broken. And I’ll describe that in detail in a moment.
I do, again, want to thank our two witnesses that are going to be testifying on the second panel, Ms. Tracy Grant and Major Josh Lewis. Both of them have done much to help Florida and the entire country through their work to make these conditions known. We would not be having these hearings here today, for example, if Ms. Grant had not come forward. And I want to thank them for taking the time to travel here and testify before the Committee.
I became involved in this situation about a year ago, when the tenants of Eureka Gardens took their case to the public. And these tenants bravely made their voices heard, even as they faced the threat of eviction from their landlord – a landlord by the name of Global Ministries Foundation (GMF). Since then, residents at Global Ministries Foundation properties and at derelict section 8 housing properties around the state have also spoken of their troubles and I want to leave this on the record without any doubt: Global Ministries Foundation are slumlords. They operate these facilities at the bare minimum, they get money from the American taxpayer and they spend as little as possible on maintenance. And I invite you to look at their financials so you can see how much money they pay themselves and the people that work around them, including many family members of the individual at the head of this organization.
When I visited Eureka Garden Apartments in Jacksonville, I saw crumbling staircases, exposed electrical wires, boarded-up windows that would trap a child inside if there was a fire. I saw an apartment that hadn’t been painted in 13 years. I saw pieces of wood with exposed nails put up in place of a door, in a unit that had small children living in it. This was evident even after Global Ministries rushed crews to the property to make cosmetic repairs just 48 hours before I arrived. The scene was unreal. As we arrived they had set up banners, all these work crews around, just to kind of make it look like they were doing things. But in the end as soon as we left, the crews left. And the work they did was largely cosmetic.
I spoke with tenants who had been through a lot over the last few years and heard stories like some of the ones you will hear Ms. Grant tell today – stories of neglect, crime, and bureaucratic indifference from HUD.
When Senator Nelson and I visited Windsor Cove Apartments in Orlando, another GMF property, as he said, we saw standing water in apartments, damaged roofs, collapsed ceilings, and breathed air that reeked of mold. We spoke with residents who had lived there for multiple years now, trapped in a facility whose conditions that no one should have to endure.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Stonybrook Apartments in Riviera Beach…This is hard for me to say because the other two places were so bad…what I saw at Stonybrook is even worst in addition to all the other things we just talked about. As you walk through the courtyard, you will see little nickel bags and dime bags of drugs, consumed drugs, all over the place. More common than any other garbage that may be laying around, in the courtyard of that building. An unwillingness to repair these properties is unfortunately par-for-the-course for Global Ministries. They willfully neglect the well-being of their tenants, as you will hear from Major Lewis testify today.
These are the three GMF properties I have visited in the state of Florida. In each case, I am sad to say, HUD has enabled fraud and abuse to continue, all while taxpayer money continues to flow into the pockets of these slumlords. Bureaucratic red tape, miscommunication, a lack of urgency have plagued the administrative response. But nothing displays how broken this program is better than HUD’s own inspection process.
The passing score in HUD’s inspection is a 60 out of 100. If a property scores above this threshold, HUD gives it the stamp of approval, declaring the conditions are “decent, safe, and sanitary” – an approval that traps tenants at the property and keeps money flowing to the landlord. What I have discovered in Florida, however, is that HUD has compromised the integrity of these standards.
Last year, the inspection at Windsor Cove, which we visited, they gave them a passing score of 90 out of 100. The next inspection, which happened to occur a week after Senator Nelson and I visited the property, gave it a failing score of 48. That inspection found a projected 86 life-threatening deficiencies on the property. From one score to the next, this kind of inconsistency is beyond belief.
Eureka Gardens received a score of over 80 out of 100 during the summer inspection that occurred just before the tenants came forward. After months of back-and-forth repairs, hospitalizations from gas leaks, alleged lead poisoning, and incessant mold outbreaks, HUD came back with a follow-up inspection and still passed them but this time 62 out of 100. Can you imagine? 62 out of 100 in the facility that you just saw images of a moment ago.
Right after that inspection, in a letter sent to GMF after visiting the property, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing wrote that “HUD officials do not believe the property would currently pass another REAC inspection,” despite the fact that an inspection had just happened barely a month before.
These slumlords caused the problems, but HUD has enabled it. And the twin vices that so often afflict massive federal safety net programs – bureaucracy and corruption – have prevented the kind of action necessary to protect the tenants, and allowed this crisis to go on for far too long.
So that is why we introduced and passed three amendments to the HUD legislation that we considered back in May. And Senator Nelson and I have also introduced legislation that would enact a tenant survey in order to better identify problems and properties like GMF’s.
The problems found at these properties are not limited to the state of Florida. These slumlords, GMF, they own properties in Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, and Tennessee – and similarly bad conditions have led to federal investigations because of those properties. They own over 5,000 taxpayer-funded units across the nation. And beyond GMF, if HUD is falsely certifying the living conditions at these many properties for one organization, then it is probably doing the same thing for many other entities we have yet to hear about.
So I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses about the effects of GMF’s fraud and HUD’s neglect, and I hope we can continue working together across party lines – this is not a partisan issue – to investigate GMF and to pass legislation to fix HUD’s faulty inspection process. Thank you.
Rubio: I thank you for your indulgence. I thank you all again for being here today. And I think there will be a broader conversation one day about the structure of the program in general. But right now we want to make the program we have in place work better. One of the things that we’ve learned in this process, and Ms. Grant I am going to ask you about this, is one of the reasons why these tenants don’t come forward and we have heard this now in the three properties, is there is a level of intimidation and threats of eviction and in essence you get hassled. If you start showing up in the newspaper and on camera…we’ve had tenants say ‘I don’t want to be on camera’ because you know bad things have happened to people around here that come forward and complain.
Ms. Grant, could you share with us a little bit about some of those impediments that you have faced? And also, related to that so the threats of eviction, the threats that come from the management company about not complaining too much and also I don’t if this has been the reality in Eureka Gardens, we also have heard that from time to time the management company will come in and give preferential treatment to certain tenants in exchange for them kind of being the voice of the tenants. In essence, the owners-sponsored tenant association president who supposedly speaks on behalf of tenants. I know that is not the case in Eureka Gardens.
We’ve heard about that in other properties and therefore they basically self-appoint the person they want to speak on behalf of the tenants and these people think everything is great. But they are getting the new refrigerator, they are getting preferential treatment. I don’t know if you saw any of that in Eureka Gardens beforehand so if you have, we would love to hear about that. But in particular, the threats from management to tenants if they complained too much.
Tracy Grant: Yes. If you speak out of if you were bold enough to go out there and ‘hey this is my problem you need to fix it or I am going to go to legal aid or I am going to go to the news media.’ Then it is like ‘okay well I give you a 10 day eviction notice so that you can get off the property.’ Or it’s a 10 day eviction notice for non-compliance for whatever reason. It may not be for what they are complaining about. They will just find something and say ‘I’m giving you a 10 day notice.’
We’ve had residents just say okay they don’t have a legitimate reason for giving me a 10 day notice and when they go to legal aid because the manager that was there before our new manager that is in place now, she would just say ‘ I know the big guy at legal aid and he is not going to do anything.’ Later on we found out that she did not know him and he does not like her.
So when that was found out then everyone went to legal aid and so she got pissed off, you know, because now she doesn’t have any leverage over these people. The new manager, she does not say anything. If you feel like, you know, the issues that you have…then, you know, she will say okay well this is what I feel is done that you haven’t complied or whatever and I give you a 10 day notice. Now you can either work on it or leave the property.’ But yes, we’ve had…
Rubio: So basically there have been instances in multiple cases at Eureka Gardens where if a tenant complains too much the management company would suddenly come up with a reason to evict you? And that got around. Everybody knew if you complained, you were going to get an eviction notice.
Rubio: Thank you.