On Wednesday, Jacksonville city officials, including Mayor Lenny Curry and Councilman Tommy Hazouri, visited Washington Heights.
The Global Ministries Foundation’s 200-unit HUD complex has many of the same issues as Eureka Gardens, say the electeds, including mold and public safety concerns.
Curry told FloridaPolitics.com this was one of his many “neighborhood walks” in which he goes into communities and talks to people. This one had special significance, because Curry will be going to D.C. next week to talk to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro about issues, many of which will concern Washington Heights and other GMF HUD properties.
When asked how the conditions compared to Eureka Gardens, Curry noted that he “didn’t see as many units” as he did at the 400-unit Westside Jacksonville complex. And unlike at Eureka, code enforcement wasn’t along.
“This was different,” Curry said. “I was just knocking on doors.”
Despite that, he noticed “mold” and “some of the same things” spotted at Eureka.
The administration is “working with HUD,” which said Curry, has the “ultimate jurisdiction” over these properties.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Curry, who said solutions to these problems can’t be “knee jerk.” The problems with Washington Heights and other such buildings were “created over decades,” in accordance with “laws and rules written a long time ago,” he said.
Beyond structural problems, Curry said, there is a culture clash at Washington Heights between two distinct population subsets.
Many of the tenants, Curry said, are “good, hardworking people,” often working multiple jobs to support their families.
However, people are allowed to “visit” the complex for up to two weeks at a time, and these visitors, Curry said, create issues.
He quoted one tenant as saying that “people that don’t live here come in, create problems, and leave a mess.”
Augmenting the problem: these visitors skirt guidelines, often leaving for a day and then coming back.
The issues are, Curry said, a “large, complicated web,” yet with a “light shining brightly” on the problems of this and other complexes in a way that hadn’t happened previously, “things are getting done.”
Curry also touched on his conversation with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who has been dealing with his own inherited mess related to GMF properties.
It was an attempt, Curry said, to “open a line of communication” between two mayors facing the same issues.
“Their mayor was sworn in in January,” Curry said, and “I was sworn in in July.”
Hazouri, meanwhile, echoed Curry’s take on the conditions, including the mold and safety issues.
“On the surface,” said Hazouri, “the ones we saw had tough issues.”
The Councilman and former Mayor touched on the issues that long-term visitors bring, especially related to “warrants and drugs.”
Hazouri also noted that some families believe their “kids can’t go outside” because of safety concerns.
The issue with these HUD developments, of course, goes beyond the developments themselves. Financing, specifically through municipal bonds as in Memphis, has to be noted.
We understand that Curry administration officials take issue with how those bonds were financed by the former Jacksonville mayor, circumventing the city oversight process of the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority.
Expect more to come out on that front in the near future.