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Mold and raw sewage in Opa-Locka housing complex bring calls for change

Chaquavia Manuel waved a reporter down as a crowd of journalists gathered at the Glorieta Gardens Apartments complex in Opa-Locka. The media was called there by Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who says she has spent years fighting with landlords who get millions of dollars in federal housing funds — while living conditions are totally inhumane.

Manuel pointed to her bathtub as an example. Fresh, brown fecal matter lined the tub, emitting a smell to match.

“The toilet water goes inside the tub. And it’s a lot of booboo in the tub. Not just my toilet, not just my tub. It’s everybody’s else’s apartment that comes up in my tub,” said Manuel.

What happens when she uses the toilet?

“It goes inside the tub,” she said.

As a result, she tries to use the bathroom outside the apartment, and vigorously cleans the tub before bathing.

Chaquavia Manuel's tub regularly fills with fecal matter
Daniel Rivero
Chaquavia Manuel's tub in her apartment in the Glorieta Gardens Apartments complex in Opa-Locka regularly fills with fecal matter.

It’s not just poop coming up into kitchen sinks and bathtubs.

Residents opened their doors to apartments that had a tangible smell of mold, with unmistakably moldy doors and walls. They speak of pervasive breathing issues, of coughs and nausea.

Miami-Dade County has recently filed a lawsuit against the owners of Glorieta Gardens Apartments, due to pervasive sanitation issues. Raw sewage from the site has been found to be seeping into drainage canals.

Owners of Glorieta Gardens Apartments have not responded to any requests from WLRN for comment. The companies that own the property are Glorieta Partners LTD, Glorieta LLC, New Vision Glorieta LLC, and NB Holdings Management LLC.

Travis Reese, a resident of the complex, showed a reporter his family’s apartment on a ground-level floor. Green mold could be seen on the doors and above an air conditioning unit, which itself dripped a puddle of water on the floor. The apartment was heavily flooded last year during a rainstorm.

The family was briefly moved to a hotel while work gets performed on that apartment. Then, last week, the family was moved into another apartment in the same complex. Reese again pointed to mold in the bathroom.

Many apartments at the Glorieta Gardens Apartments complex in Opa-Locka have pervasive mold.
Daniel Rivero
Many apartments at the Glorieta Gardens Apartments complex in Opa-Locka have pervasive mold. Moldy doors could clearly be seen in the apartment of Travis Reese.

“You can smell paint and mold,” said Reese. “They just put paint on top and cover it up but it’s mold.”

Congresswoman Wilson was joined Monday afternoon by a group of federal and local officials through the site, saying that she had been fighting with building management for years.

Glorieta is a Section 8 property, and receives millions of federal dollars, on top of millions of dollars in tax benefits it received intended to give owners an incentive to renovate the property. Section 8 provides money to low-income families to rent an apartment or house on the private market.

Wilson said the issues at the property are pervasive, and that frequently management simply paints over mold or performs surface-level work, without addressing the underlying issues or needed repairs. Property management has frequently changed at the complex while conditions only worsen.

“Even the playground is the raggediest thing you’ve ever seen. They take the money and they keep it,” said Wilson. “We can’t do this. We cannot do this in Opa-Locka. We can’t let these people die. They have to breathe. We got to put our foot down on Glorieta, on HUD, and everybody else to fix this.”

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Wilson pressed the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to do something about the situation — hopefully, she said, to quickly direct money to completely gut and rebuild entire buildings.

Some residents shouted down officials gathering at the complex, denouncing calls for increased funding as a waste that will only benefit property owners, not residents. One resident said the conditions are so bad the buildings simply need to be knocked down and rebuilt.

Wilson told WLRN the buildings should probably be condemned, though she acknowledged residents would have few alternative options given Miami-Dade's housing crisis.

“That's what we're trying to do. The issue becomes — there’s a housing shortage in the county. So people — we don’t have anywhere to put these people,” she told WLRN.

For the meantime, the city of Opa-Locka is housing six families in a hotel, and 47 other families in other accommodations while Glorieta’s owners do work on some key, problematic units.

A representative from HUD said the federal government would evaluate what can be done about the living conditions after taking part of the tour.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s office staff joined the tour. Rubio has been calling attention to problems at the complex since 2018, lamenting that federal dollars continue to flow to the company.

“I hope HUD’s site visit leads to strong accountability measures so the residents receive the safe, healthy living standards they are guaranteed under the law,” Rubio said in a statement.