I-Team: Safety Questioned At Some HUD Housing
A CBS4 I-Team investigation into your tax dollars has called into question the safety at some low income government housing and whether money meant for security is being spent elsewhere.
Two South Florida Families have been torn apart, their loved ones killed in separate incidents. Both families claim that their loved ones died because of a lack of security at the government housing complexes where they lived.
“Daddy, I miss you so much,” are the words written in a single page letter from 9-year-old Jennifer to her daddy, Joel Figueroa.
“But don’t worry, I get good grades for you,” continues Jennifer’s letter to her father “You always tell me to be good.”
Sadly, Figueroa will never be able to read that letter. In August 2006 he was to death while he slept in his home. His wife, Rosa, can barely bring herself to speak as she remembers the scene that happened right in front of her. Two masked men broke in through a back door and shot her husband during an apparent robbery.
“He was sleeping,” Rosa Figueroa said. “He didn’t do anything to anybody.”
“And they shot him,” asked CBS4 I-Team investigator Stephen Stock.
“Yea,” replied Rosa Figueroa.
Figueroa lived with his family in a low income housing community in Goulds near Homestead. The community is run by Homestead’s Housing Authority; an organization that receives tax dollars. The CBS4 I-Team uncovered a lawsuit that alleges, at the time of the shooting, none of those tax dollars were being used to provide for security at the Goulds complex.
“They (the Homestead Housing Authority) knew that there was crime,” said Rosa Figueroa’s civil attorney Gregg Schwartz. “The tenants said they wanted security guards. They (the Housing Authority) never provided them. They (the tenants) said they wanted a gate. They never got it.”
Yet the CBS4 I-Team found that that same Homestead Housing Authority provided security guards, security vehicles and security cameras at another low income community that it manages, located just a few miles down the road from Goulds in Redlands.
The CBS4 I-Team then went to that community where the Housing Authority’s offices are located to try to get answers from Housing Authority Manager, Edmund Carrera.
“The questions that you’re asking are related to what I’m not supposed to talk to you about (because of the lawsuit),” said Edmund Carrera.
“But you would concede you’ve got good security here (at the Redlands Community complex),” asked I-Team investigator Stephen Stock. “I counted them, a dozen trucks and you’ve got security cameras and all that.”
Carrera wanted to know about the security cameras.
“Security cameras where are they” asked Carrera.
Stock walked Carrera out his front office door and showed him the cameras mounted on a building right across the street.
“There’s two of them right out there,” Stock said as Carrera looked at the cameras.
“Oh,” replied Carrera.
Carrera, insists he’s not playing favorites by providing security at one location while ignoring the other saying quote “It’s always been that way. That’s all the money that we have.”
The CBS4 I-Team then moved its investigation to another low income community farther north in Opa Locka called The Gardens on Port Said Road. The Gardens is run by Creative Choice Homes II, LLC, out of Palm Beach Gardens in Palm Beach County.
Creative Choice and The Gardens also receives tax dollars through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Memos, letters and HUD documents that are part of another lawsuit show Creative Choice Homes gets the tax dollars in exchange for providing safe, clean living conditions at The Gardens apartments.
“He’s a special son, special father, brother, uncle and we miss him terribly,” said Natasha Ervin who spoke of her deceased loved one Donta Gordon who was shot to death on an outside balcony at The Gardens back in December of 2007.
In their suit, Gordon’s relatives charge that The Gardens’ management did nothing to provide security to protect residents like Donta.
No security was provided even though police had been called to The Gardens 2,383 different times, or nearly twice a day, during the previous 4 years. Court records, which are part of the lawsuit, show that of the police calls for service there were 656 calls for assault, 34 calls for robberies, 25 calls for shootings and 40 police narcotics investigations.
In fact, former police officers testified in depositions as part of the lawsuit that some police officers were wary of going into The Gardens after dark without backup.
“How do you stand before a jury or a judge or you and say there’s nothing we could do because it was so bad,” said civil attorney Andrew Haggard.
Haggard and lawyers at his Coral Gables law firm represent Natasha Ervin and Gordon’s family in the suit.
“At least try,” said Haggard. “Have security guards. They (The Gardens management) fired them. Have a guard gate. They (The Gardens management) did. They (the management) abandoned it.”
The CBS4 I-Team also learned The Gardens actually charges residents $38 dollars a month to pay for security. Because of the low income nature of the apartments, almost all that security money was actually paid by the taxpayer, through HUD.
“It’s almost like the owners of the apartments loaded the gun,” Natasha Ervin said. “You (The Gardens’ management) didn’t do anything to protect him but you (the management) didn’t have any problem going to the bank to cash the check.”
Stock asked an unidentified worker at The Gardens “Is Yash Pal Kakkar here?”
Yash Pal Kakkar is listed on HUD inspection records as the Secretary of the General Partner for the Creative Choice Homes. The I-Team want to find Kakkar or any other management personnel to ask where that $38 dollars a month, or nearly $150 thousand a year, went if it not for security.
An unidentified woman answered from behind the office door but refused to open it.
“He (Kakkar) is not in right now. What’s this in reference to?”
“It’s in reference to security, you guys billing residents $38 and then not providing security,” Stock replied.
“You’ll have to call the corporate office. I’m sorry,” said the unidentified woman.
The CBS4 I-Team put in calls to the corporate office as well as the attorney representing the management of the Gardens. No one returned the calls or e-mails seeking comment. However the CBS4 I-Team spoke to the HUD Field Director in Miami who said HUD has been concerned with the lack of security at The Gardens for some time.
Armando Fana said that beginning Thursday (October 1, 2009) The Gardens will begin charging $72 a month (up from $38 a month) in security fees for each unit there. Fana said the management at The Gardens has pledged to use the increased fees to pay for two guards and to build a guardhouse at The Gardens.