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Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Al Lawson talk HUD reform in Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s Eureka Garden apartment complex has been in the news for a number of years.

First came the crime reports. Then came reports about mold, broken windows, gas leaks, and other infrastructural nightmares for the 400-unit HUD complex on Jacksonville’s Westside.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio called for reforms to the HUD process, and for new ownership.

And right now, the ownership transition is underway.

Millennia Housing Management took over the management of the complex from the still-current owners, Global Ministries Foundation.

MHM is ready to put capital in; however, until formal transfer of the GMF portfolio concludes, there’s only so much they will invest.

And therein lies an issue for the long-suffering Eureka Garden residents.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson has made Eureka a focus, discussing issues at the complex during his 2016 campaign, and visiting the apartments during his last Congressional recess.

Tuesday saw Lawson double down — accompanied by another newcomer to Washington, D.C., in HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Sen. Rubio.

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At a church near Eureka Garden, the politicians sat down with Jacksonville City Councilmen and other local stakeholders, as Secretary Carson discussed his plans for reform.

Before doing that, he lauded local officials for demonstrating the “leadership” that has brought the issues at Eureka into the “spotlight.”

Carson described a holistic vision of reform, one which went beyond subsidized housing.

The Secretary advocated for community clinics, “so the Emergency Room doesn’t become the primary care vehicle.”

He also advocated the importance of education, making the case for vouchers, and for more changes to the Section 8 model.

Among those proposals: a “housing savings account,” which would allow residents to save a bit of money every month, either to defray the cost of repairs (“doors scratched up” and other such issues).

“If those things aren’t happening,” Carson said, money “starts to accumulate,” and after a number of years, there may be sufficient money for a down payment on a house.

Carson, after musing on problems with America’s multi-party system, and people outside the country watching to see if they should “destroy [Americans] or wait for them to destroy themselves, noted that there’s “a lot of hysteria about people going to be thrown out onto the street.”

Carson says that won’t happen; however, America’s ponderous national debt requires a focus on using money efficiently and effectively, with an eye toward getting the greatest “bang for the buck.”

Part of that strategy: public-private partnerships, with “federal money leveraged with the private sector.”

President Donald Trump wants a $1T investment in infrastructure; much of that, Carson said, will go to housing.

Carson also wants “vision centers” near HUD complexes, which will be “places where young people can learn about careers.”

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Rep. Lawson told us about how he made the visit happen, writing Secretary Carson in February.

“I told him he really needed to come to Eureka Garden,” Lawson said.

Lawson sees the changes at Eureka — which look to be complete in the next couple of years, pending the transfer of the property — as a model for the rest of the country, potentially.

While Rep. Lawson isn’t completely sold on concepts like housing savings accounts, saying they might have more utility for younger people rather than older residents, he appreciates Sec. Carson’s interest, and anticipates a strong working relationship while both are in Washington.

Written By

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