New owners of troubled Eastside apartment complex bring restored hope for residents after years of safety concerns

There’s new hope for residents at a troubled apartment complex on Jacksonville’s Eastside.

The Downtown East Apartments, formerly known as Franklin Arms, have been plagued with pests, mold, and violence for years. But now, the Jacksonville Housing Authority and a local nonprofit are taking ownership after buying it from a private investor.

The Downtown East apartments have been a challenging place to live for people on fixed incomes for quite some time.

Robert Rentz, 69, moved to the apartment complex about nine months ago after he lost his wife and his old apartment got too expensive.

Rentz is optimistic about the new owners. He said would like to see more security and more modern interiors.

“They got a lot of work. They’ve got a lot of work with this older building. They got a lot of work to do,” Rentz said.

City leaders found the issues so bad they dubbed this a nuisance property in 2022.

READ | I-TEAM: Troubled Jacksonville apartment complex declared public nuisance

The former security contractor was pulled from the complex – over safety concerns.

But there’s a new chapter.

In November, the Jacksonville Housing Authority partnered with the Eastside nonprofit LIFT JAX to buy the 52-year-old building in an $8 million deal.

Renovations should cost another almost $5 million.

“We’re planning on doing a gut rehab to build that is currently 98 units. We want to convert to about 100 units. And we want to do gut rehab, new electrical work, new plumbing, new modifications on the units, new electrical upgrades. We think that after we invest our money back into this property, we can put all the units back online, it’s currently about 70% occupied for we think we can give it up to 100% occupied and provide more units for low-income families in Duval County,” President & CEO of Jacksonville Housing Authority Dwayne Alexander said.

On Thursday, Alexander and LIFT JAX president David Garfunkel met News4JAX at the complex located in 888 Franklin Street.

Vic Micolucci: What is your message to people who have lived here, and they’ve made complaints about mold and rats and roaches and crime and they’re just fed up? What do you have to tell them?

“They should be extremely excited as we are. Because we are very good when it comes to managing properties. And we are very good with construction and converting properties as well,” Alexander said.

When asked if residents should worry about their rent or utilities going up, the new owners said:

“They shouldn’t have to worry about that,” Alexander said.

This is part of a bigger plan to revitalize the Eastside community.

The I-TEAM has investigated the nearby Eastside Terrace and Gardens apartments. LIFT JAX recently bought those and is making improvements.

“So we’ve had our eyes on this particular property really, since we got in the neighborhood about three or four years ago, when we talked to residents, it was this specific apartment building that rose to the top in terms of the needs for the residents themselves to be better taken care of,” Garfunkel said.

Garfunkel said their priority now that they acquired this apartment complex is the safety and security of their residents.

Rentz hopes new ownership and new management make this a better place for the residents and their neighbors.

“They said it’s gonna take, you know, a year and 18 months to do it. So, we’ll see. Supposedly, they’ve done a few more, and they’ve done that really well,” Rentz said.

The affordable housing complex has studio and one-bedroom units with monthly rents based on income – the manager said they’re between $650 and $825 plus utilities.

The studio and one-bedroom units average 552 square feet.

This weekend, LIFT JAX announced Jacksonville’s Historic Eastside has been accepted to the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of historic places worthy of preservation across the United States.

This recognition will help get more resources and funding for years to come.

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