On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., wrote U.S. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue expressing deep concern with the ongoing housing conditions present in the Okeechobee/Osceola Centers, insisting they are not safe. In the letter, Hastings urged immediate action from the USDA to ensure safe and sanitary housing for the residents in compliance with local, state and federal laws. These properties are privately owned by the Belle Glade Housing Authority and overseen by the USDA’s Rural Housing Administration.
The letter was as follows:
I write to express my deep concern with the ongoing living conditions at the Okeechobee/Osceola Centers, which are located in my congressional district of Belle Glade, FL. As you know, these properties are privately owned by the Belle Glade Housing Authority and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Administration. While I am mindful of efforts to keep local, state, and federal officials informed on the status of the unsafe living conditions at these complexes, I request further updates on the USDA’s plan to remedy the situation and ensure safe and sanitary housing for the families living there.
News reports have detailed the alarming experience of one family who had been living at the Okeechobee Center for over a year with their three small children, two six-year-old girls and a one-year old boy, whose health has been endangered by a litany of unacceptable conditions, which include mold, rodents and cockroaches. Since moving into the Okeechobee Center, the children have experienced hospitalization for breathing trouble, an asthma diagnosis, recurring ear infections, an infestation of cockroaches in the child’s ear, and bites from cockroaches and rodents.
It is abundantly clear that this property has not been maintained in compliance with local, state, and federal laws and regulations. As these harmful conditions continue to worsen under the USDA’s watch, I fear that the health and well-being of the families living there will only worsen. Therefore, I urge you to take immediate action to correct the unlivable and unlawful conditions at these complexes.
In August, the Florida Department of Health inspected the units and found multiple violations, resulting in an unsatisfactory rating. It is my understanding that the USDA received complaints from residents, which led your agency to issue a notice of non-compliance on July 29, 2019 to the owner for sub-standard physical conditions, operations, and financial statements of which they responded in a letter dated August 13, 2019. Thus, I ask that you answer the following questions:
• What is the date of the most recent inspections of the Okeechobee/Osceola Centers and what were the findings of those inspections?
• Does the owner of the Okeechobee/Osceola Centers remain in non-compliance with the USDA’s Rural Housing Program?
• What is the USDA’s plan on ensuring the owner’s compliance to make these complexes livable and safe for its residents?
I thank you for your time and consideration of my request and look forward to your prompt response.