JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, has spent the last three days in Washington, D.C., meeting with government leaders about the problems at Hilltop Village Apartments.
The Northwest Jacksonville apartment community has been the subject of several News4Jax I-TEAM stories after we uncovered a mice infestation in all of the 14 buildings on the property.
As a result of our initial story in April, the mayor’s office ordered code enforcement inspect all 200 apartments. We’ve now learned inspectors have returned to the property every week and have issued 556 violations since May 4. The mayor’s public affairs office said that 132 of those have been corrected by the property owner and that the landlord has been issued $35,250 in paying citations at this time.
Elsbury has met this week with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, both of whom have already sent letters to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, requesting action to hold the landlord responsible, and have called on HUD to do more to force the owner to correct unsafe living conditions.
The I-TEAM learned HUD was supposed to inspect the property in 2017 but never did. An inspection was not conducted until the I-TEAM and Rubio’s office asked why it had been missed.
Hilltop Village is owned by S.P. Hilltop LLC, which owns 11 other HUD communities in Jacksonville. The owner receives payments from the federal government as part of a contract with HUD to provide affordable housing to low-income earning families. As part of that deal, the owner is supposed to provide safe, decent living conditions for the tenants. HUD is required to ensure that is being done by, among other things, inspecting the property. Despite the missed inspection in 2017, the owner still received $5.7 million in HUD payments.
After we exposed the mice infestation, a HUD spokesperson told the I-TEAM last month that the property management company responsible for maintaining Hilltop Village had allocated $111,986 for exterior exclusions of pests entering the 14 property buildings and have signed contracts that also include an additional commitment of up to $144,000 for interior exclusion.
Yet, it does not appear those pest control measures are working. We have received several calls, emails and texts from tenants who tell us their apartments are still infested with mice. We wanted answers from the Jacksonville HUD Office. It’s supervisor is Alesia Scott-Ford.
“’You really caught me off guard, and I’m not in a position to answer these questions,” she told me when I asked her if HUD is going to continue to send payments to Hilltop Village’s owner.
We spoke to her before she appeared at an unrelated news conference at City Hall.
“HUD is doing everything possible to ensure that families are living in a safe, decent and comfortable environment,” she told me.
When I asked her about the missed HUD inspection in 2017, she said, “I can’t. I’m not allowed to speak