The Florida Times Union reports…
“After a month of negative inspections and increased attention on the dangerous, moldy, pest-infected conditions of apartments at Eureka Garden, the president of the non-profit that owns the complex came to town with some promises.
The Rev. Richard Hamlet, the founder and chairman of Tennessee-based Global Ministries Foundation, met Monday morning at Jacksonville City Hall with a slate of city and federal officials about how to resolve a long list of property code citations and health issues identified by inspections of the Westside apartments and then went to Eureka Garden.
Hamlet, who made $485,000 in 2013 running Global Ministries Foundation, told city and federal officials that now that he knows about the Eureka Garden problems, he will make changes:
■ He will stop threatening to evict residents whose apartments are unsanitary. After the city issued hundreds of violations against Global Ministries for rampant mold, unsafe stairs, broken sinks, broken refrigerators, the property manager issued some 10-day notices to some residents, threatening to evict them if they didn’t fix the problems. Hamlet said he won’t issue any more 10-day notices for a month. He also said if the notices were an attempt to quiet residents who complained of property conditions, he will fire whoever is responsible.
■ He will reimburse the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue for treating residents who suffered from gas poisoning. His maintenance workers had turned gas on in apartments without notifying residents. Three residents needed medical attention, and earlier in the month another resident needed help because of a gas leak.
■ He will reimburse tenants who paid a mandatory $50 installation fee for air-conditioning units. The property manager, Holli Garrard, required tenants pay her husband to install the units. Many units are leaking and caused mold problems. He also said he believes Garrard’s husband — who has no special licensing from the state — was qualified to install the air-conditioning units, and the fee will now have to increase for future installations to more than $100.
■ He also promised air-quality tests in the apartments. When the city inspected apartments earlier this month, they had no carbon monoxide detectors. The Department of Housing and Urban Development said Global Ministries has now installed detectors in 268 of the 400 units.
■ He promised to provide engineering reports by Friday on the unstable stairs. Throughout the apartment complex, stairwells are rusting with big holes in them. Maintenance workers, however, have covered holes with duct tape rather than repairing the stairs. The city’s building code inspectors said the stairs were unsafe and needed to be fixed immediately, or the city will ask the state attorney to prosecute the non-profit.
Also attending the City Hall meeting, were U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville; Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief administrative officer Sam Mousa; General Counsel Jason Gabriel and Department of Health Director Kelli Wells. Other participants represented the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city’s municipal code compliance division, the city’s building inspections division and the city’s fire marshal’s office.
Hamlet went to the meeting with four employees of Ledic, the national company that manages the property on behalf of Global Ministries Foundation.
Though Hamlet apologized to reporters for the unsanitary and unsafe conditions, residents say he didn’t apologize to them.
When asked if he would meet with the women who went to the hospital due to gas poisoning, he said he didn’t know residents were hospitalized. He only knew emergency responders had treated residents.
Darline Ball, who has gone to the hospital twice this month because of gas poisoning, said Hamlet went to a tenants’ association meeting she was at, but he didn’t mention the gas problems and he didn’t apologize.
Others at the meeting corroborated that, saying he promised to visit one tenants’ apartment, but he didn’t apologize for gas poisoning that brought Jacksonville Fire and Rescue to the complex.
Since Sept. 1, fire records say emergency medical responders have gone to the apartments 33 times, an average of more than four times a week.
Hamlet’s arrival caused Pastor Mark Griffin of Wayman Ministries, a church across the street from Eureka Garden, to cancel a rally that would call for Eureka’s condemnation.
Hamlet said he doesn’t “like to get in the weeds” of property management, but he will evaluate the local team, hired by Tennessee-based Ledic. He said he will look to see if personnel needs to be changed.
“He’s got to do something,” said Gail Thomas, tenant association vice president. More than anything, she said, residents want Garrard fired. Residents said Garrard is disrespectful and doesn’t respond to their complaints.
For weeks, Garrard has not responded to The Florida Times-Union’s requests for comment.
Hamlet said Eureka Gardens is a long-term investment for Global Ministries Foundation. “I’m not interested in selling it,” he said. “We’re here to make a difference. We want to make it better the best we can.”
He said the ministry has already invested $3 million in repairs at its 836 apartments throughout Jacksonville.
He received tax-free bonds from Capital Trust Agency, a lender in Santa Rosa County to buy Eureka Garden and other complexes in Jacksonville.
If he’d received them through the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority, financial consultant Mark Hendrickson said, he would’ve had to detail exactly how he was going to rehabilitate the apartments.
“This is a challenging business,” Hamlet said.
City Councilman Garrett Dennis, who met with Hamlet, said Hamlet is “charismatic” but the test will be what he does, not what he says.
“He has given us some commitments and we’re going to hold him to those commitments,” Dennis said. “We’re going to hold his feet to the fire.
“We’re talking about life and safety here.”