Slum lords

Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development documented sufficient "life threatening" violations at Kennedy Homes - the federally subsidized Gainesville housing project - to classify it a "troubled" complex.
Over the years, HUD has paid rent subsidies to a succession of Kennedy landlords - most recently to the giant national management company Aimco, which pulls in upwards of $792,000 a year from the feds to manage Kennedy.
And yet, five years after that critical HUD assessment, Kennedy Homes is, by all accounts, in worse shape than ever. City codes enforcers have documented numerous violations at Kennedy. The degree to which the complex is becoming, literally, uninhabitable, was only underscored by the well-publicized incident last month in which a 52-year old Kennedy resident had her bathroom ceiling collapse around her head.
The low income residents who live in Kennedy should not be expected to share their living quarters with rats. They should not have to continually complain about water leaks, exposed wires, crumbling ceilings, mold and cockroach infestation. And assurances from Aimco - which manages more than 300,000 subsidized rental apartments in America - that the problems are being addressed ring hollow in the face of continuing problems at Kennedy.
At the insistence of city commissioners, Kennedy's slum-like conditions have been getting more attention of late. It's been recommended that rent payments be withheld until all repairs are made, that HUD declare Aimco in breach of contract, and that HUD revise its own procedures so as to more quickly ensure that unsafe and substandard housing conditions are corrected.
As it is, such recommendations seem late in coming. It has been estimated that it may cost $6 million to fix up Kennedy - possibly more money than the 35-year-old complex is worth. Handed down from owner to owner throughout the years - with yet another prospective owner already waiting in the wings - Kennedy's problems have been a long time compounding.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, has taken a personal interest in the problems at Kennedy. We suggest that she use her influence to demand some hard answers from HUD - for starters, how could the mounting problems at Kennedy be allowed to continue, virtually unaddressed, for so many years? Is this just another case of bureaucratic foot dragging?
If that is the case, then the foot-dragging needs to end abruptly. Safi Boone, a Kennedy resident who has complained about raw sewage flowing out of her toilet and tiles falling from her bathtub, was doubtlessly speaking for a number of her fellow residents when she told The Sun recently, "I've never missed my rent payment, but this is how I get treated."
What has been allowed to occur at Kennedy Homes over the years is a scandal. That it's a scandal that has been years in the making only compounds the shame of it all.
HUD needs to do its job and protect the rights, not to mention health and safety, of the Kennedy residents. The problems need to be addressed quickly and decisively.
And if it turns out that the aging Kennedy is beyond repair - as City Commissioner Chuck Chestnut suggests - then it should be condemned and a new apartment complex planned for.
Is HUD in the business of subsidizing slums? Given its failure to halt the steady deterioration of Kennedy Homes over the years, it's difficult to come to any other conclusion.

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