OPINION: HUD should hold developers accountable amid housing crisis

Cambridge Management and Southport Financial Services need to face consequences from the federal government after they left Jacksonville affordable housing complexes in deplorable states. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/HABITAT FOR HUMANITY OF HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY

Gov. Ron DeSantis cut off all state funding to subsidized housing developers Cambridge Management and Southport Financial Services on Sept. 24 after witnessing firsthand the deplorable conditions of the Hilltop Village affordable housing community in Jacksonville.

Following a News 4 Jacksonville exposé on the apartment’s conditions in April, Sen. Marco Rubio implored the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) multiple times to hold Cambridge Management accountable, to no avail. 

This includes an Aug. 9 letter wherein Rubio outlined all of Cambridge’s complexes that had officially failed their 2020 inspections. On this list were Silver Oaks and Jackson Heights Apartments in Tampa. 

Hilltop Village was infested with rats, had crumbling infrastructure and poor waste management including overflowing sewage and garbage resulting in dangerous sanitary conditions, according to the inspection. This caused DeSantis to take action at the state level. 

Subsidized housing development companies funded by HUD should be held accountable for the conditions their tenants are forced to live under.

Cambridge Management and Southport Financial Services jointly own thousands of properties, several in Tampa, including La Vista Oaks Apartments and Mobley Park Apartments. Some Google reviews for these apartments complain of cockroach infestation, lack of security, poor sewage management, overflowing garbage and rent increases without warning.

These complaints go back seven years and are consistent to today.

Obviously, these developers have a history of deplorable housing conditions for tenants. These are just two of many housing developers in Florida who take advantage of HUD’s indifference. Because they haven’t been held accountable for these properties, their tenants continue to live in less than adequate conditions.

Florida is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, with only 28 affordable homes available for every 100 extremely low-income renter households, according to the 2021 annual report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

These management companies hike up rent on deplorable apartments knowing full well the tenants have nowhere else to go. 

“They constantly go up on rent,” wrote one La Vista Oaks tenant in a 2019 Google review. “They use HUD or water usage in the complex as an excuse but have never shown a bill. They stopped answering my calls when I complained.”

These management companies know, based on history, HUD will not penalize them for this injustice.

The Hilltop Villages was infested with rats for a couple of years, and HUD knew for months but to this day hasn’t acted on behalf of the tenants. The conditions became so disgusting even DeSantis, the governor who cut affordable housing funds during a pandemic, felt called to action.

These development companies need to be held accountable. The conditions of some of these affordable housing complexes are inexcusable. HUD is responsible for the tenants’ suffering, as it had left the apartment complex to rot with no inspections since 2015 despite consistent complaints.

DeSantis was right to intervene on behalf of the tenants. By withholding state funds and barring these management companies from writing more leases, they can actually be held accountable for the conditions of their apartments. If HUD will not hold management companies accountable and defend vulnerable citizens from being taken advantage of, Florida must.