U.S. Rep. Al Lawson visited Eureka Garden in Jacksonville on Presidents’ Day, and expressed optimism for the building’s current ownership, while suggesting that more comprehensive reform of HUD is needed.
Speaking to tenants in the 400-unit Section 8 complex’s community center, Rep. Lawson addressed the need for federal help allowing tenants to “make a different quality of life,” by making “funding available.”
The congressman will have an important ally across the aisle and in the Senate in this regard.
Lawson discussed a “sitdown” with an old friend: Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been an advocate of HUD reform for over a year, in reaction to the dilapidation at Eureka Garden and other properties once owned by Global Ministries Foundation.
Lawson asserted that Rubio, who said on many occasions that GMF had a “slumlord” approach to property ownership, committed to continue working on HUD reform.
“We want to make sure that they take care of residents,” Lawson said, and “make sure HUD has proper oversight” by “working jointly with HUD to make some changes.”
Among those changes: ensuring that federal dollars go into building maintenance, not into the pockets of ownership — something that was not the case in the past with GMF properties.
“It will take time,” Lawson added, “but we have made the commitment.”
Lawson also joins Rubio in believing that GMF should be held accountable for the conditions they allowed to happen at the Jacksonville apartment complex, though the mechanisms for that accountability are unclear.
Lawson also intends to engage the Donald Trump administration in his quest, vowing to get HUD Secretary Ben Carson to “come down and take a look.”
The Congressman’s approach to the residents of Eureka was jovial and joke-filled.
At one point, Lawson quipped that “every time I get a paycheck, I think about you.”
And at a couple of points, Lawson noted that apartments at Eureka were “better than [his] apartment in D.C.,” an endorsement of the ongoing rehab work that the new management company, Millennia Housing Management, is engaged in.
“I can give a good report,” Lawson said, noting that he will meet with senators to discuss HUD issues next week.
Though Millennia took over on Feb. 1, the company is already working through a priority list of repairs, focusing on major issues currently.
If all goes well with the Ohio company’s ownership bid, Millennia will hold the title on this and the rest of the GMF portfolio by the end of the year.
Though tenants groused at the slow pace of repairs, citing issues like missing screen doors, needed burglar bars on doors, and a lack of insulation in the walls, Lawson focused on positives, such as an improved playground and an eventual community garden.
“I feel like you all are going to take pride in the community,” Lawson said, advising those on hand to call police if they see “someone out on the corner selling drugs.”
Though Lawson’s appearance was appreciated by those on hand, he may have missed an opportunity for synergy from local politicians.
Lawson’s visit to Eureka Garden was originally expected to be on Tuesday, and was expected to involve Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis – the local catalysts for reform in GMF properties.
Curry was spending Monday with his family.
Dennis noted that, while he couldn’t attend due to the “late notice of the visit,” he looked forward to getting together with Lawson at a future date and discussing “other issues plaguing our community and the City of Jacksonville.”
Lawson has a crowded schedule over the next few days.
He met with a group of preachers earlier on Monday.
On Tuesday, the first-term Tallahassee Democrat will discuss the Affordable Care Act with executives at Florida Blue, and will also discuss federal dredging dollars with the chair of JAXPORT.
Wednesday sees Lawson meeting with another phalanx of pastors.