U.S. Representative Al Lawson was the second member of Congress in a week to declare rodent-ridden, federally subsidized apartments in Jacksonville when he said residents of Hilltop Village Apartments should be relocated Thursday until the exterminators hit the infestation can eliminate.
“It is unacceptable that young mothers who live in the units and work to raise healthy children are forced to put their food in airtight containers so that pathogenic rodents cannot interfere with their child’s development,” said Lawson, D- Tallahassee, in a statement.
Lawson’s criticism follows U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who last week targeted conditions in Hilltop Village and two other Jacksonville apartment complexes, Eastside Terrace and Eastside Gardens, after his Congressional officials viewed them and spoken to residents.
All three apartments are financially supported by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide housing for low-income residents. The apartments are not managed or owned by the Jacksonville Housing Authority, but have Section 8 lease agreements with HUD, which is responsible for verifying compliance with federal standards.
US Senator Rubio: Hilltop Village has not been inspected by HUD since 2015
Rubio said HUD failed to keep an eye on the inspections of the apartment complexes. In a letter sent to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge this week, he said that Hilltop Village has not conducted an HUD inspection of the Real Estate Assessment Center as of December 2, 2015.
In the letter to Fudge, he said when his staff went to Hilltop Village on Monday they saw “evidence of severe rodent infestation and chronic garbage overflow” throughout the complex. He said renters found rodents in bedding, kitchen cabinets, interior furniture and bathrooms.
“Residents shouldn’t have to wait nearly six years between security and hygiene checks to ensure decent living conditions,” wrote Rubio.
Rubio also criticized loopholes in inspections at Eastside Gardens, which had not had a HUD inspection since November 13, 2018, and Eastside Terrace, which received a failed mark of 51 out of 100 on November 19, 2019 and did not receive a subsequent one HUD inspection.
State Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, said Thursday it was “outrageous that residents of the Hilltop Village Apartments, Eastside Terrace Apartments and Eastside Gardens Apartments have waited so long for a safety and plumbing inspection,” said Davis.
Lawson said he spoke with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge about the need for “immediate action”.
Officials from the HUD offices in Jacksonville and Washington DC did not immediately return calls and emails for comment.
The city can also conduct inspections of the apartment complexes.
Quotes were given to all but one of the 59 Hilltop Village homes inspected by Jacksonville officials
In the Hilltop Village case, the City of Jacksonville dispatched an inspection team to her on Wednesday and knocked on 166 doors to gain access to the apartments to review the conditions.
Of 59 apartments that inspectors were able to enter, 58 units received quotes for “various minimum housing problems” and one apartment received no quotes, according to the city.
Residents of 13 units denied the inspectors entry and no one opened the door to 94 apartments where the city left contact information for them to call. Tenants of three apartments followed to schedule inspections.
The inspection flash and the request for HUD action came after news from WJXT-TV Channel 4 reported on the living conditions of the residents.
Prior to Wednesday’s inspection of Hilltop Village, the city’s complaint tracking system revealed four cases at the complex since the beginning of the current fiscal year on October 1, according to the city.
One entry was a duplicate of a complaint filed in the previous fiscal year pending a hearing. A complaint was closed after the renter said the owner had solved the problem. A complaint is pending while the city is working with the tenant on a complaint time for the inspector to enter the apartment and the city has reached out to HUD for assistance on an issue, according to the city.
Lawson said the city should move Hilltop Village Apartments residents to “safe and clean temporary housing while the city and the HUD address this dire situation”.
He said residents had complained about rodent and roach infestations, live mold spores and exposed trash in the apartment complex.
He said the latest round of city inspections showed “multiple violations” such as insect infestation and broken smoke alarms, sinks, toilets and containers that need replacing.