Hastings Urges Immediate Action by USDA Secretary Perdue to Ensure Safe and Sanitary Housing at the Okeechobee/Osceola Centers

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Washington, D.C., October 16, 2019 | comments

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) sent the following letter to the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Sonny Perdue III, expressing deep concern with the ongoing unlivable and unlawful housing conditions present in the Okeechobee/Osceola Centers.  Furthermore, the letter urges 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. (Please find below and attached a copy of the letter): 

October 16, 2019

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

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.  

Sincerely,

Alcee L. Hastings
Member of Congress

CC:

The Honorable Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor
Executive Office of the Governor
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399

The Honorable Jeanette Nuñez
Florida Lieutenant Governor
Executive Office of the Governor
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399

Dr. Scott Rivkees
State Surgeon General
Florida Department of Health
4052 Bald Cypress Way
Tallahassee, Florida 23299

The Honorable Melissa McKinlay
Commissioner, Palm Beach County
301 North Olive Avenue, 12th Floor
West Palm Beach, Florida 33401

Mr. Bruce Lammers
Administrator for Rural Housing Service
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250

The Honorable Marco Rubio
United States Senator
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20002

The Honorable Rick Scott
United States Senator
716 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Nicole Fried
Commissioner of Agriculture
Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, Florida 32399

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Vice-Chairman of the House Rules Committee, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.

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