Florida Times-Union: At Jacksonville’s troubled Eureka Garden, HUD Secretary Ben Carson touts housing vouchers
After just weeks on the job, new U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson personally toured a troubled subsidized housing complex in West Jacksonville on Tuesday.
Carson, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and other officials met with management, and toured the 400-unit Eureka Garden complex. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has had the complex, which failed its last inspection, and its owners in its sights for more than a year.
Rubio, fellow U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Mayor Lenny Curry and other leaders have been very critical of conditions at Eureka and other housing complexes owned by Global Ministries Foundation of Tennessee. Rubio pushed for a federal investigation. After continued pressure, GMF agreed to sell several properties including Eureka, Washington Heights and others in Jacksonville.
Carson told Pastor Mark Griffin of Wayman Ministries, which is adjacent to the complex and assists residents, he and others brought the conditions into the “spotlight, which can’t be swept under the rug.”
Curry responded to complaints from residents and sent teams of city inspectors to Eureka in October 2015. They found hundreds of violations. Federal and local officials have kept consistent pressure on Global Ministries since.
Eureka’s score has declined with each of the federal inspections, which have raised concerns about whether there were decent, safe and sanitary conditions. The federal government could take over Eureka if it fails another HUD inspection.
“We welcome Secretary Carson to Eureka Gardens with great pride and hope,” read a statement from Global Ministries, which is in the process of selling the property to The Millennia Companies. That company is prepared to begin an expedited rehab of the property when its purchase closes later this year. “We are confident that Secretary Carson, HUD and The Millennia Companies will serve the residents of Eureka Gardens well in the years ahead,” Global Ministries said.
Administrators with Millennia, which took over management in February, shared successes at other complexes and their concept for Eureka during a meeting before the Tuesday tour.
Tracy Grant, president of the tenant association, glowed as she saw the proposal for Eureka. She told Carson that on her first night at Eureka there were gunshots and she laid in the floor with her babies.
For years, the major concern was violence, but inspectors found crumbling stairs, mold and mildew, leaking pipes and a host of other problems. People were also evacuated at one point due to gas leaks.
While there is a “lot of hysteria” about proposed federal budget cuts and talk of “people being thrown out on the streets,” Carson said, that’s “not gonna happen.”
President Donald Trump, who defeated Rubio and Carson in the Republican presidential primary, has proposed drastic budget cuts. With $20 trillion in federal debt, Carson said, government must be be fiscally responsible.
“Let’s see what people actually need,” said Carson, who Trump appointed to the post. “It’s not going to be a matter of throwing money at problems.”
Carson, joined by his wife, Candy, said the focus should not be about how many people they can get into public housing, but how many they can get out. He supports housing vouchers, which he said give people more options if apartments have questionable conditions.
Jeffrey Crossman of Millennia said the construction and rehabilitation will take about 18 months after the business takes ownership of the complex. He said there will be a physical transformation.
Rubio conducted a Senate hearing on GMF, including testimony from Grant about Eureka. He also sucessfully pushed for changes to federal law and is working to pass other changes.
When asked how residents who’ve heard promises for years should look at Tuesday’s visit, Rubio said “you’ve never had a HUD secretary here before.”