Millennia Housing Management Archives - Florida Politics

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.

Al Lawson talks HUD reform at Jacksonville’s Eureka Garden

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.

 

Sale of Jacksonville HUD properties making progress, says mayor’s office

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and senior staffers had another meeting this week with the potential buyer for some of the city’s most beleaguered HUD properties, and it went well, says the mayor’s office.

In September, Curry confirmed the interest of Millennia Housing Management of Cleveland, Ohio, —which has specialized in the low-income housing market for over two decades — in acquiring properties owned by Global Ministries Foundation.

Those properties had, especially in the last year, gotten national scrutiny for being in disrepair, with issues ranging from property-wide gas leaks to mold infestations and structural damage that compromised safety.

Curry’s office says the Thursday meeting was productive, and it seems the deal is moving toward completion.

Millennia, we are told via answers provided by Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart, is “finalizing purchase and sale agreement now with hopes to be in due diligence period soon.”

The due diligence period allows the potential buyer to do a final review of the portfolio of properties it is acquiring.

One issue with GMF’s ownership of properties such as Eureka Garden, Washington Heights, and Cleveland Arms was the insufficient capital committed to rehab; roughly $3,000 a unit, for rental apartments approaching half a century old.

Will Millennia commit to invest meaningfully in facility rehab?

Curry’s team is confident: “No commitments made, however, their track record speaks to the kind of rehab they perform.”

Indeed, Millennia has pledged significant resources to facility rehabilitation in the past, as a 2014 tax incentive application makes clear.

In acquiring a 160-unit Section 8 complex in upstate New York, the company pledged to spend $8.8 million on the “soft costs” of renovation. Pro-rated, this comes out to $55,000 a unit, as the company vowed to address a “multitude of capital needs” for the apartments, including kitchen and bathroom renovation and installing new windows.

There are still hurdles to overcome: in addition to the due diligence period, the deal, said Stewart, requires “approval of transaction by HUD (and any other stakeholder entities).”

Millennia, already in 22 states, should have no problem there.

The bet that Millennia has made over the years: that guaranteed federal money will defray, over time, the cost of rehab.

It’s a bet that the city of Jacksonville welcomes, after years of frustration with Global Ministries, and years before that with previous ownership teams.

Lenny Curry discusses potential sale of Eureka Garden, other HUD complexes

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was not necessarily identified with addressing issues with HUD properties in his campaign for mayor last year.

However, the man called a “governance mayor” by his head spokesperson, got into office and quickly found conditions at HUD properties — specifically, those involving Global Ministries Foundation — among the issues most in need of addressing.

GMF entered the Jacksonville market under the previous mayoral administration, under circumstances that seemed questionable at the time to members of the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority.

Mayor Alvin Brown “bypassed the normal approval process through the city council and went directly to the mayor for approval” for financing, said Tripp Gulliford of the JHFA.

GMF ended up buying properties that included Washington Heights and Eureka Garden, and did not devote sufficient resources to renovate the mid-20th century multi-unit developments.

In fact, $3,000 a unit was all GMF — a putative nonprofit run by a minister and his family that shifted over nine million dollars from its nonprofit housing arm to its religious affiliate — had allocated for remediation of problems that had accumulated over decades.

HUD admitted its culpability in selling the properties to GMF. And part of the reason why was the concerted effort of city officials, such as Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis, as well Sen. Marco Rubio. In the wake of his failed run for president, Rubio seemed to find a renewed purpose in calling attention to the federally subsidized squalor at GMF complexes in Jacksonville and elsewhere.

Rubio brought the problems found in these complexes to the floor of the United States Senate, pointing out the multi-state nature of the decay that GMF facilitated. From complexes in Memphis, where HUD pulled funding and destabilized the municipal housing bond market, to rodents and sewage in an Atlanta complex, to the neglect in Jacksonville, Sen. Rubio stayed on the task.

When Florida Politics covered Rubio at Eureka Garden, he was combative, saying Global Ministries Foundation was “an old-fashioned slumlord” whose nonprofit status, Rubio said, was a dodge to “avoid property tax.” He also said the group’s feeble simulations of repair work were “all a show.”

Rubio, during that visit, pointed out a “bidding war” for GMF properties. Months later, it appears their sale is imminent.

The company potentially buying Global Ministries Foundation properties is Millennia Housing Management of Cleveland, Ohio, which has specialized in the low-income housing market for over two decades.

Its “footprint” spans across 20,000 units and 22 states, and “continues to grow.”

GMF confirmed that sale to the Florida Times-Union.

“GMF has reached an agreement in principle for Millennia’s acquisition of certain of GMF’s Section 8 properties. The sales will be subject to typical due diligence and other inspection contingencies, as well as subject to HUD approval,” said Audrey Young, spokeswoman for GMF-Preservation of Affordability.

Meanwhile, Curry addressed the media Tuesday afternoon, directly after a “good conversation” with Millennia CEO Frank Sinito.

Curry described the potential sale as a “very good development,” and a culmination of a goal.

“Once we discovered how bad Eureka Garden was,” Curry said, “we believed there needed to be new ownership.”

Curry was impressed particularly by Sinito saying his standard for rental properties was “would I live in properties I own.”

Curry lauded the company’s long history in the business, as well as its vertical integration. saying that it wasn’t quite a done deal … yet.

“The business side has to make sense,” Curry said, adding that “these things aren’t usually announced this early in the process.”

Sinito, said Curry, has visited the properties, and Millennia “will only follow through if they can invest what is needed.”

Curry would not confirm whether or not Millennia’s interest was in all GMF properties, saying that it was a “significant transaction” but that he didn’t want to “do anything that would jeopardize the transaction.”

For Curry, there was a note of personal accomplishment in the developments.

“Hamlet needs to go,” Curry said. “I said that almost a year ago.”

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