The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Tuesday work was underway at Jacksonville’s Hilltop Village to remedy long-standing rat problems.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis decried reported rodent infestations at the subsidized apartment complex in Northwest Jacksonville.
Slamming the federal government’s “lack of interest” in aiding residents, DeSantis on Friday cited the “deplorable” conditions at Hilltop Village and barred the Florida Housing Finance Corporation from issuing new leases until the matter was resolved.
On Tuesday, a HUD spokesperson said work toward “complete eradication” of rodents had started.
“Under strict guidance from HUD and local government officials, Hilltop property owners have since conducted a 100%-unit inspection, have relocated tenants from impacted units and begun work towards the complete eradication of the pests. New reports of rodents require immediate action and we are committed to ongoing, swift engagement at Hilltop to ensure that it meets HUD standards and that residents enjoy housing quality that anyone should expect,” HUD asserted.
The statement acknowledges a lapse in inspections, attributing that to COVID-19.
“We have restarted our physical inspections of all troubled properties in Florida that were previously suspended due to the global pandemic,” the department added.
Meanwhile, collaboration is the way forward, and that includes with the DeSantis administration.
“We know we cannot do this work alone so we welcome a partnership with all stakeholders, including residents, local, state and federal elected officials. Our staff has hosted recurring congressional briefings for state and federal delegations and have reached out to the Governor’s office to join us in this work. As we all are aware, there is a persistent shortage of affordable housing in Florida,” HUD notes.
The administration seems to be taking a wait and see attitude about what HUD’s assertions amount to, meanwhile.
Spokesperson Christina Pushaw tweeted: “Well that’s encouraging. HUD says they have ‘begun work towards’ eradicating the long-standing rat infestation at Hilltop Village in Jacksonville that (DeSantis) criticized last week. HUD had stopped inspections because COVID.”
The statement comes just days after DeSantis messaged about federal disengagement.
“Despite recent statements by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that ‘the management agent has continued to work with the most critically affected tenants,’ in reality the persistent and deplorable conditions that dozens of Hilltop residents have endured is simply unacceptable,” DeSantis said Friday. “Our patience has run out for this developer and their management company’s failed stewardship of safe, decent, and affordable housing for Floridians.”
There is historical precedent for such skepticism. Florida leaders have messaged about this issue for some time.
A statement from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio last week indicated that whatever HUD has done, it hasn’t been enough. Rubio’s office noted that HUD missed a 2018 inspection, waiting until after a May 2021 letter from the Senator to inspect. Prior to that, the most recent had been in Dec. 2015.
“As a result of HUD’s persistent lack of oversight, tenants at Hilltop Village Apartments are still living in abhorrent conditions,” said Rubio. “Addressing constituent housing takes multiple levels, and I am thankful that Gov. DeSantis is a partner in these efforts. I am committed to continuing to work together to ensure that the families at Hilltop Village Apartments are afforded the safe and decent living conditions that they deserve.”
Rubio has spotlighted issues at the complex for some months, part of an ongoing history of concern about low-income housing in Jacksonville.
“It is unacceptable that the residents of Hilltop Village Apartments have been obligated to live under these conditions, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents should not have to wait almost six years between safety and sanitation inspections to be guaranteed appropriate living conditions,” Rubio urged.