The Stonybrook Apartments in Riviera Beach have a long history of substandard living conditions.
The tenants are fighting to improve their living conditions at the federally-subsidized complex and recently filed a lawsuit.
On Wednesday, the Riviera Beach City Council is scheduled to vote on two agenda items that would clear the way for the apartment complex to be sold to a new owner, Millennia Housing. The current owner, Global Ministries Foundation, is being forced to sell many of it's federally subsidized complexes across the country for poor maintenance and other serious deficiencies.
Before the sale goes through, the Riviera Beach City Council first have to approve a site plan for the property and Millennia would have to pay $380,000 for existing code enforcement violations.
Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters talked to WLRN’s Nadege Green about the situation at Stonybrook Apartments and the efforts to improve living conditions for its tenants. You can listen to their conversation and read some highlights below.
WLRN: With the tenants who live at Stonybrook, at one point you were actively involved in protests happening outside of the apartment complex as a result of the conditions there. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that the tenants at Stonybrook are living in livable conditions?
MASTERS: It's the manager of record, Millennia. They are the ones that get the money to properly maintain and secure the facility. The reason why we started the protests is because many people lived in apartments with no air. That's just totally unacceptable in Florida with the heat. After that we found mold, rats and roaches and everything else that comes along with it.
There are some serious environmental concerns at Stonybrook. This isn't just a situation of "people are living in homes that don't look nice." There's confirmed mold and you have children living there. I've interviewed parents who have kids with respiratory issues that they think could be caused by the environmental situation or at the very least exacerbated by it. How do you respond to their concerns?
We need to see if there's an avenue to get those people that are experiencing this difficult environment out of Stonybrook. The only thing we can do is continue to do what we have done. You know, we're going out there, we have red tagged places and we have said that this is not acceptable. To their credit, I understand they have put some families in hotels during the time that they're supposed to go in a rehab unit.
When you say red tagged, the city put tags on doors that said it's "not deemed habitable for human occupation." Over a dozen apartments were deemed uninhabitable for people after the city tagged those apartments. I went there and there were still people living in those apartments.
Well, you know, it's not an easy thing. It's not easy fix. I don't want to see the city create a homeless situation. Neither do I want to see the city or anybody create a situation that is going to continue to allow people to live in an unhealthy unsanitary environment.
And what happens if the management doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Who holds them accountable?
Well, HUD, Housing Urban Development is the agency because they're the ones subsidizing the rent.
You have multiple agencies involved. You have HUD involved because this is a HUD subsidized property. You have the actual owner, you have the property manager, you have the city that does code enforcement and building code violations et cetera. Is this a case of systemic failure?
You know, I guess you can look at it that way. You know, failure is failure to me. And we also want the best for our residents who are living in low-income housing. In this situation, we use our own agencies like code enforcement and all the other agencies, but sometimes they just pay the fine and move on. I mean we have collected thousands of dollars in fines, but the bottom line is, however we got there, we've got to turn the corner and that's what we want to do.