Push to improve conditions at Riviera apartments

Posted at 12:10 AM, Jun 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-08 04:20:56-04

The city of Riviera Beach is fining the owners of Stonybrook Apartments $15,000 for code violations.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Dawn Pardo toured the property with a staff member from Sen. Marco Rubio's office. What Rubio's staff found has him calling for a federal investigation. 

In May, Rubio called for the owner of the apartment complex to be investigated. 

A local mother who lives at the complex with her three children says at night she and her kids wake up to the sound of rats in their walls. 

"You hear then in the walls all night long, you can't sleep," said the single mom who wishes to remain anonymous. 

She's lived at Stonybrook Apartments in Riviera Beach for the last five years. This is all she can afford right now and it comes at a price. 

"This whole house has been flooding since I moved here," she said. "My bathroom is being ate up by termites." 

She says the toilet in her bedroom bathroom floods the entire apartment and hasn't been fixed. She says her complaints are not being heard. 

Pardo said the city has been battling the property owners, Global Ministries Foundation for years. On Tuesday she toured the non-profit's federally funded apartments with a staff member of Rubio's office. 

"We witnessed holes in the walls, we witnessed roaches coming out of the air conditioning vents," said Pardo.

Rubio's office released this statement:

"Senator Rubio’s office has been actively looking into health and safety conditions at Global Ministries Foundation properties throughout the state over the past 8 months. The Senator has toured complexes in Jacksonville and in Orlando, and today his staff toured the Stonybrook apartment complex in Riviera Beach. The situation they witnessed was no different from other GMF-owned properties. Roaches were crawling across floors, mold was growing along walls, safety issues were clearly visible and residents even spoke of rat infestations. The scope of these housing problems continues to grow and is alarming. People shouldn’t have to live this way and Global Ministries can’t get away with stealing taxpayer dollars for its own profit. That’s why Senator Rubio has asked both the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department to open investigations into the slumlord organization.”

Rubio has toured two of GMF federally subsidized housing properties in Jacksonville and Orlando, calling the conditions there deplorable. 

"I commend Sen. Rubio for putting his foot down and saying we are not going to tolerate this," said Pardo. 

A spokesperson for GMF released the following statement on behalf of its president, saying the organization's finances are assessed by an independent auditor every year:

"GMF acquired Stonybrook Apartments in April 2012 after the property received a failing 51 HUD REAC inspection score under the previous owner. Immediately following acquisition of historically challenged Stonybrook Apartments, we invested $2 million in restoration of property which is predominantly home to single mothers and children. GMF capital investments have been focused on increasing security by adding nighttime armed guards, putting in property-wide exterior bright lighting, ensuring the police department had real-time access to six security cameras throughout the property, installing an automated main entrance gate that allowed only one car to pass through at a time and reinforcement of the entire perimeter fence and access gates. Additional capital investments have included renovation of apartment units, treatment and removal of mold and dirt from the exterior of all buildings, replacement of broken windows, railings and screens, and restoration of heavy traffic lawns and play areas," Reverend Richard Hamlet, CEO and President of GMF-Preservation of Affordability Corporation." 

Stonybrook's HUD inspection score has improved since GMF took over the property. According to a database, it received a passing 75 score in 2014. Councilwoman Pardo questions how after what she saw Tuesday. She is asking GMF's president to tour the property himself. 

"I would just question him how he would be able to sleep at night knowing that children are living in the conditions that they are living in. It's totally unconscionable," added Pardo. 

Pardo said Rubio has plans to visit Stonybrook Apartments in the coming weeks. Right now the city says GMF has 30 days to pay $15,000 for code violations. GMF says it is working to correct the violations.