Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried visited Tampa's Silver Oaks Apartments for the second time, and vowed new action from her office to correct problems at the troubled complex.
Fried did a walkthrough of units, where she got to see firsthand the infrastructure problems, where collapsing ceilings, black mold and rodents have residents living in what they described to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay as a "nightmare."
The gubernatorial candidate spoke with several tenants about the issues they've dealt with for a number of years and reviewed one tenant's lease inside her unit. The tenant told Fried that she has been asking for help at her unit since 2014, at the time appealing to then-Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for help.
"Hearing stories of water coming down onto electric units blowing out their air conditioning unit, seeing mold that is on the ceiling and on the floors, and the [management] just painting over it....this is not a quality way of life, and we have to get to the bottom of who is responsible to make sure that the people are living here with dignity and pride," Fried told reporters.
Fried said she wants to follow the money and see what can be done about Southport Development and Cambridge Management's mishandling of the maintenance at the complex. Both companies accept federal money in order to provide affordable housing at Silver Oaks and apartment complexes around Florida, but Fried was concerned that the companies have been misusing the funds and not maintaining the properties.
Last week, Fried wrote to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after she discovered that it would have to take the lead on the Silver Oaks situation because her office lacks the power that the federal authorities have.
Still, today Fried vowed to do what she can from her office.
"I do regulate the security officers, so a notice to any of the security officers who are inside here," Fried said. "If you dare harass and pull out guns on the residents, you're going to have a price to pay."
Fried said that if the security officers are going outside of their authority by posing a threat to tenants, then her office has the power to suspend the security company's license and potentially even remove it permanently.
When asked what can be done about the management companies, who have been exposed multiple times for problems at complexes around the state, Fried said lawsuits were not out of the question.
"If we've got bad actors, then we need to get rid of them. And obviously, they're not doing their job here to keep these residents safe, both on a security basis but also on health care and safety," Fried said. "And so these are the questions that we are now asking to and looking into these companies to see what needs to be done. If lawsuits need to be filed, then that's what needs to happen."
"We've got to figure out what we need to be doing to beef up the statutes that regulate housing, and how companies are getting contracts to buy properties, and the contracts to manage the properties, so we can figure out whose responsibility it is to hold them accountable," Fried said.
During the conference, Fried addressed a group of children who live at Silver Oaks.
As the kids watched her speak from behind the gates surrounding the property, Fried said, "They're taking money from the federal government, and then not following through on their responsibilities to these children."