RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — For many years they felt forgotten.
More than 100 Riviera Beach families lived in horrible conditions with mold, leaky roofs, and rat and roach-infested apartments at a complex formerly known as the Stonybrook Apartments.
"Rats falling from the trees. There was mold everywhere. It was just awful. You wouldn't have wanted your worst enemy to live here then," said Dr. Julia Botel, the chair of the Riviera Beach City Council.
Around $17 million has been spent to transform the community into the new Azure Estates.
One year ago, new owners of the property broke ground to renovate old and dilapidated buildings. By July 2021, the entire property will be completely renovated.
Residents said they thought they would never see the day.
One year ago, the home for Ernest Jackson looked very different than it does today.
"I had a leaky roof, some holes in the walls, but it wasn't as bad as some of the others I've seen," Jackson said.
As a single dad, he needed affordable housing, and like many others, heard the horrors of the Stonybrook Apartments.
"The mold, the electricity going in and out, roaches and rats. That kind of thing," Jackson said.
Botel said there were doubts about how the buildings could be saved. But with help from local, state and federal agencies, the new property owner, The Millennia Companies, had a vision to turn things around.
The company obtained bonds issued by the state, low-income housing tax credits, and housing and urban development rental subsidy programs.
The project erases the eye-sore that neighboring communities were very familiar with.
"This transformation here, in which I see, is something that as a stakeholder in the city I've longed to see," said Mary Brabham of Riviera Beach.
Brand new kitchens, appliances, new flooring, new bathrooms. For the first time, the community will have its own fully equipped laundry room, a community center and a fitness center.
"It makes you want to keep it up ... makes you want to work hard to strive harder to be better," Jackson said.
Jackson moved into his new unit in September. Two more buildings will be completed in the next few weeks.
The entire renovation project, all 216 units, is expected to be completed by July 2021.
"I just feel like it's a brand new start for everyone," Jackson said.
Property manager Beatrice Nieves said in a week, she will be relocating 16 more families to their renovated units.
"That's one of my best feelings to walk in through the units with them. They get this brand new unit. The look on their faces, their reactions are priceless," Nieves said.