Regarding Eureka Gardens, the question is simple.
What did Alvin Brown know and when did he know it?
If we go back to 2012, a letter from Tripp Gulliford of the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority claims that Brown, for reasons still left unexplained, went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Capital Trust Agency, which “financed the acquisition and alleged rehabilitation of Eureka Gardens,” was approved, despite JHFA opposition, by Brown bypassing City Council and approving the deal himself.
The JHFA made the case that “CTA will essentially finance anything, with no third-party credit underwriting, lack of ongoing monitoring, and no requirements beyond the minimums in the code … schemes to earn interest on bond proceeds and to pay fees to financing professionals. CTA has also experienced several defaults on multifamily issues that were poorly structured … [and] have suffered from poor management and lack of capital to properly maintain the physical property.”
As well, “there is no third-party analysis or ongoing monitoring, and there are no requirements beyond the minimum in the Code … the deals [often] involve acquisition of existing properties with no mechanism in place to ensure that the rehabilitation is adequate.”
The financing, Gulliford said, was a mechanism to ensure a property flip. Meanwhile, issues were identified in 2012.
The physical needs assessment from JHFA included numerous examples of “significant” repair requirements, including bad roofs, “aluminum branch circuit distribution wiring,” and “lack of GFCI outlets or circuits in wet locations, including the laundry rooms.”
As well, “cracks in the sidewalks … require abrading.” Other issues identified in 2012 included needs for asphalt repair, HVAC replacement, and exterior and interior painting.
Those issues and more were identified when code inspectors went in this month, providing the impetus for HUD to render its previous fraudulent and fragmentary inspections of the property invalid.
A statement from Brown on Oct. 22, which seemed to surface in response to media inquiry into the potential connection between Brown’s inaction and his extraordinary interest in ensuring the deal went down to facilitate Global Ministries’ acquisition of this and other properties, skirted around these issues, instead advancing the narrative that the process was clean and met with no public objection.
“When this agreement was created in 2012, it was privy to a formal process, including a public hearing and the advice of city staff and attorneys. No objections regarding this project were ever brought to my attention. I encourage Global Ministries Foundation to finish the job it told this community it would do,” Brown said.
Yet, here’s the thing. The Eureka Gardens Tenants Association people claimed (this summer at City Council) to have reached out to the mayor, by letter, way back in 2013 to let the mayor know of these issues. They got no response.
At that time, Council was discussing a resolution to remove HUD funds from Eureka. And at that time, a narrative was advanced by some folks that Eureka was “getting better.”
And people are still saying that, even as residents last week had to evacuate in the dead of night when gas flooded their units, and as many residents are saying the 400-unit complex needs to be condemned.
Eureka Gardens “happened” because the former mayor either didn’t practice due diligence or turned a blind eye. Mayor Lenny Curry amassed a certain amount of political capital by taking action. However, the blight at Eureka is a consequence of institutionalized racism that started on ships from Africa, extended through Jim Crow, and extends to this day. Residents lived that way because they had no recourse and lacked the resources to get out.
Shutting down these slums is a start. But the journey is long from here.
Success of initiatives like the revived Jax Journey 2.0, which seeks to help at-risk youth and young adults, is necessary. As are improvement of infrastructure, and bus lines, as is currently in the offing with the First Coast Flyer.
As well, creative solutions likely are needed.
Consider the foreclosure registry, larded with 30,000 homes. How many of those homes could be brokered to Section 8 families?
A lesson that we learn from Eureka Gardens is that the federal government does not have a one-size-fits-all solution in these Section 8 complexes. The Curry administration must find a “Jacksonville solution” to the problems created by thousands of people trapped in these housing complexes that are themselves quite arguably human rights violations.