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The notorious Stonybrook Apartments has been transformed into Azure Estates in Riviera Beach

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Wilkine Brutus
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WLRN
A temporary photo booth inside the Brabham-Botel Community Center at Azure Estates illustrates exterior renovations of what was formerly Stonybook Apartments in Riviera Beach

For years, the notoriously dangerous Stonybrook Apartments in Riviera Beach terrorized hundreds of families with roach and rat infested housing units, leaky roofs, damaged walls, asbestos and rampant mold throughout many of the units. It was an unhealthy, unsafe place where children suffered respiratory complications from black mold.

How bad was it? There were city warning labels on apartment doors that read: "This building is deemed unsafe for human occupancy."

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Now, after years of substandard living conditions, change has finally come for the low-income, federally subsidized complex. It's a far cry from rent strikes that raised alarm over the slum-like conditions. New kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms. New entrance and a community center. The infamous Stonybrook Apartments has been renamed Azure Estates.

Mary Brabham is a community leader who owns a home nearby. Brabham has advocated on behalf of the neighborhood for years, and she said the skin-crawling nightmare for residents is finally over.

“They are so elated. They have cried to me. I have cried on their shoulder too, because they said I did not believe it,” Brabham said. “And that was where I had to come in to let them realize it is believable.”

The new Brabham-Botel Community Center — which includes amenities such as workstations, computers, and space for social events — was named after Mary Brabham and councilperson Dr. Julia A. Botel. A plaque honors them for their “unwavering advocacy of behalf of the families at Azure Estates” and their “exemplary leadership in championing quality affordable housing opportunities.”

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Wilkine Brutus
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WLRN took a tour inside one of the apartments at Azure Estates, formerly known as the notoriously unhealthy and unsafe Stonybook Apartments

More than $18 million through low-income housing tax credits, state bonds, and other subsidies have been used to transform 216 affordable housing units. According to Millennia Housing Development, 20 to 30% of the units did not have “standard living conditions.”

In 2018, the new property owner purchased the complex from Global Ministries Foundation. Residents at the time, filed a lawsuit against Millennia, Global Ministries Foundation and the city to make sure apartments were cleared out quickly.

Tom Mignogna, Vice President of Development for Millennia Housing Development, said "good news has finally arrived at the complex."

“There’s an affordable housing crisis in this country and we wanted Azure Estates to be a model not only for Florida but for the rest of the country,” said Mignogna. “To see what can be done to do a 180 on the conditions of a property that had a bad reputation, that had poor living conditions, that had residents who had just given up. Who had no trust. Who had fear.”

WLRN toured two rooms that were furnished by the nonprofit Friends of The Riviera Beach Schools. Residents are already living in the upgraded units. Mignogna said it took several months to earn the trust of the community stakeholders and residents. After 20 to 24 months of construction, he believes he has earned that trust now.

“The impetus falls on the residents to honor their own living conditions, as well as the property management company, Millennia Housing Management, to give them the resources they need to learn how to upkeep their own units,” said Mignogna.

“But we're also held to a high standard by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and the city of Riviera Beach, of course, has a very vested interest in making sure this property is well-maintained.”