Bayside Villas residents, who complain of deplorable conditions and discrimination, are ramping up their fight for justice.
“We got enough stuff to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Bayside Villas resident Barbara Williams said. “We are in this for the long run. I am truly committed.”
Following the direction of Florida’s Office of the Attorney General, residents in the apartment complex, just off 20th Lane East in Palmetto, are in the process of filing complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
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An individual report is being submitted for each resident, and at least five cases have been submitted. When complete, they estimate there will be about 20 cases submitted to the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
“Everybody has a story,” Williams said. “That way you have a greater impact.”
We are in this for the long run. I am truly committed.
Barbara Williams, Bayside Villas resident
Residents are filling out the Florida Commission on Human Relations’ questionnaire for housing complaints, which asks the basis for the claim of housing discrimination, what happened that was discriminatory and whether they were treated differently from others.
“The Commission is committed to thoroughly investigating discrimination complaints filed by people who live in Florida, as well as visitors to our state,” Michelle Wilson, the commission’s executive director, said in a letter attached to the questionnaire. “Discrimination cases tend to be complex and sometimes the outcome of a case may change, depending upon the existence or non-existence of one or two facts. Providing all the important facts of your complaint at the beginning of the investigation process ensures that we will have enough useful information needed to move forward.”
Once receiving the complaints, the commission has to first determine whether there is warrant to initiate an investigation, according to Florida Commission on Human Relations spokesman Frank Penela.
“Through investigation, we determine whether or not there is cause,” he said, adding that the commission has 100 days from when the complaint is filed to investigate. “We either find cause or no cause, which allows parties to proceed with legal means if necessary.”
Penela was unable to speak specifically about the Bayside Villas case.
“We can’t even confirm or deny that someone even filed with us,” he said. “Anybody has a right to file with us if they feel like they have been discriminated against with regard to housing.”
An email sent in January to U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio’s office from Sedrick Ross, investigator specialist with the commission, states that the “Florida Commission on Human Relations is in receipt of your inquiry concerning possible housing discrimination.”
More than three months later, nothing has changed
Since the Bradenton Herald first reported on the “deplorable” conditions found at Bayside Villas last November, things haven’t changed, according to Williams.
The apartment’s management “refuses to acknowledge that there is anything going on here with retaliation, discrimination and deplorable living conditions,” Williams said. “Those three components either way you sequence them they have the same effect, the same devastating effect.”
For Willie “Mr. Jack” Davis, who receives Section 8 vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for his housing, his apartment was inspected in December by the Manatee County Housing Authority. After the inspection, Brenda Lovett, an inspector with the housing authority, told the Herald and Davis that his inspection had no defects, passing inspection.
“I have no deficiencies to write down,” Lovett said after completing the “Housing Quality Standards, Quality Control inspection,” which is requirement by HUD since Davis receives Section 8 vouchers to pay for his housing. “It passes the standard of HUD. Decent, safe, affordable housing.”
But a letter dated four days later from Lovett indicates otherwise.
“A recent inspection of the above premises revealed violations, of the minimum Housing Quality Standards of the Manatee County Housing Authority, which must be corrected in order for the unit to remain eligible for rental assistance,” according to the letter.
Davis’ apartment will be inspected by the Manatee County Housing Authority again in April as part of the “Annual Housing Quality Standards inspection process,” according to a letter sent Feb. 7.
Manatee County is “so far behind” in housing issues and the conditions she and her neighbors live in, Williams said.
“This is a perfect example and this is a small town,” Williams said. “Landlords in Manatee County have forced us to live in deplorable conditions, and nothing has been done about it.”
Using a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Willie Davis said they just want to be treated fairly.
“We don’t want to be treated special just fair,” Davis said. “Just be fair to all of us out here.”
After Davis’ mother, Aliene Cox, was told she had to move out of her apartment, her health took a downward turn. Cox, who is still in a Bradenton medical facility, is doing better and Davis hopes that her mother can return home to her Bayside Villas apartment one day.
Bayside Villas is home, said resident Jacqueline Anderson.
“Why would I want to move? I just want to be treated fair,” she said.
Williams added: “I have no intentions of relocating.”
Rubio’s office keeps involved
Every week Williams says she hears from Rubio’s office.
“Everybody is aware what is going on at Bayside Villas,” Williams said.
Rubio’s office is keeping involved with Bayside Villas, a spokeswoman confirmed Friday.
“Senator Rubio’s staff has seen firsthand the serious problems at Bayside Villas, and our office will continue working to ensure all residents are treated with fairness and respect,” said Christina Mandreucci, Rubio spokeswoman.
Rubio’s office began looking into complaints about the Palmetto apartments after the Herald’s first reports in November.
In a letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi in December, Rubio said the treatment of residents at Bayside Villas is “uncalled for,” calling on Bondi to “investigate this matter as a consumer protection issue.”
“An investigation into the unfair treatment of these tenants and any violations of their rights is a necessary step for corrective action,” Rubio wrote in the letter. “With your involvement, we can stop the unfair and deceptive business practices that are taking place at Bayside Villas and ensure its residents are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.”
But in response to Rubio’s request, Bondi’s office said they are unable to take any action at this point in response to the treatment of residents at Bayside Villas, directing the residents to file complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
“Our authority to act, however, occurs after FCHR completes its investigation, finds reasonable cause and the complainant requests our office to represent them in the matter,” Danille Carroll, the office’s director of civil rights, said in the January letter. “This Office can then proceed, once the Commission has conducted a full investigation and found cause to pursue the matter.”