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Rubio turns up heat on owners of housing project in Opa-locka

Sen. Marco Rubio is turning up the heat on the owners of the Glorieta Gardens apartments to explain how they spent $24 million in tax-exempt bonds and other revenue on renovation work, following a Herald investigation that found the conditions at the low-income housing complex had worsened following the pricey rehab.

On Thursday, Rubio urged Glorieta Partners Ltd., which owns the federally subsidized 328-unit complex in Opa-locka, to detail its spending on the project. He also asked Glorieta Partners President Kenneth Weiss to explain how a 20 percent increase in rents, approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, helped pay for the major rehab job.

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A section of the ceiling has collapsed in this abandoned apartment at Glorieta Gardens and mold covers the walls and what remains of the ceiling.

Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

Accusing the owners of failing to complete the renovation work, Rubio said: “The tenants deserve better than what you have provided them thus far, and their needs must be addressed immediately.”

Earlier in the week, Rubio sent a similar letter to the HUD secretary and the Internal Revenue Service commissioner. The Florida Republican demanded that they conduct an audit of Glorieta Partners, the partnership that owns Glorieta Gardens, and its contractors, “to ensure federal tax dollars were used as intended in the rehabilitation and management of Glorieta Gardens.”

“Over the course of multiple visits, Senator Rubio’s staff saw firsthand the slum-like living conditions of residents, which included layers of mold coating walls, sewage leaking into kitchens, and corroded pipes,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “The senator is committed to ensuring that tenants of Glorieta Gardens live in safe and sanitary conditions.”

The federal government subsidizes the apartments through its Section 8 housing assistance program. The Herald reported that Glorieta Partners received $24 million in tax-exempt bonds in 2015 for the stated purpose of buying and renovating Glorieta Gardens.

Glorieta Partners bought the complex from Creative Choice Group, owned by real estate developer Dilip Barot, for $20.3 million; the partnership consists of a company managed by Barot’s wife and the nonprofit New Vision Housing Foundation, which shares the address of Barot’s company in Palm Beach County. Glorieta Partners is also receiving $15.5 million in federal tax credits for low-income housing renovations from the state, though the credits have not yet been distributed.

New Vision Housing Foundation, which is headed by Weiss and is the majority owner of the apartment complex, said it has been responsive to tenants’ ongoing concerns about their living conditions in the aftermath of the rehab project.

“We are taking prompt action to address concerns or complaints regarding water intrusion, mold or any other issue that is brought to our attention,” New Vision’s asset manager, Jeff Staley, told the Herald earlier in the week.

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‘Everything was a temporary repair, they did nothing about the mold and mildew,’ said Ibet Lopez, 55, who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment at Glorieta Gardens for about four years.

Jose A. Iglesias jiglesias@elnuevoherald.com

“We will also communicate directly with Senator Rubio’s office and invite his staff to meet with us regarding any concerns they have,” he said. “It is our intent to insure that any post-rehab issues are addressed as quickly as possible.”

Staley could not be reached for comment Friday regarding Rubio’s letter to Weiss.

Staff from Rubio’s office visited Glorieta Gardens, located in two sections on Alexandria Drive and Northwest 30th Avenue off Opa-locka Boulevard, after the Herald reported last week that widespread mold, roach, sewage and flooding issues persisted even after the rehab.

“Tenants reported that they received appliances that do not work, experienced instances where their walls were painted to cover rust and mold, and experience constant flooding,” Rubio’s letter to HUD and the IRS said. “Tenants were assured by management that a ‘state-of-the-art security camera system’ would be installed, however, no such security system is believed to be present on the property, while violent crime and drive-by shootings remain prevalent.”

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Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Internal Revenue Service calling for an audit of Glorieta Gardens.

Federal regulations require housing complexes like Glorieta Gardens to be decent, safe, sanitary, in good repair and free of health and safety hazards.

The property’s latest renovation work was marked as completed on Feb. 19, 2018, a status report shows, but just three months later, on May 24, the complex failed a federal inspection with a score of 58, two points below the passing tally. The owners appealed and received a barely passing score of 67 out of 100 points.

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