INVESTIGATES: Broken promise properties; Jacksonville councilman calls for accountability

An Action News Jax investigation has spurred one city council member to push the Deegan administration for answers. Jacksonville has been giving away property to people who say they’ll build affordable housing but failed to make sure the new owners followed through.


Former Council President and Finance Committee Chair Ron Salem is leading the charge. After seeing how much money the city has lost and how many affordable homes should have been created but weren’t, he wants to know why.

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“I saw your report and was very much concerned about it,” Salem says.

That’s because an Inspector General Report found 95% of the people who got free property from the city in 2019 failed to deliver what they promised: below market rate homes.

The mayor has a big emphasis on affordable housing,” Salem says, “and it doesn’t look good for any of us.”

RELATED: INVESTIGATES: Broken promise in Jacksonville affordable housing as free property turned profits

Starting in 2019, state law required the city to either sell or donate certain surplus properties to create affordable housing. The people who signed up could get up to five properties for free and had two years to get them on the market at below market rates.

Rick Samples is the city’s Deputy Inspector General and when his office followed up on the parcels from 2019, it found a staggering failure of accountability. In 2019, the city gave away 174 parcels of land to 62 people. 59 of them violated the deed agreement.

“Our review showed that 95% of those grantees failed to create affordable housing,” Samples says, “failed to do what the basic requirements, which was within two years, create the affordable housing that was available for people in a certain income level.”

Instead, records show most recipients turned around and deeded their freebie property to someone else, often for a profit.

For years, Action News Jax found, the city hadn’t done anything about it. And so far, only 14 of the 160 broken promise properties have been returned to the city.

According to the city, it’s pursued litigation on five properties, seven properties were voluntarily returned, and two more are in the process of being returned.

Now, Salem is asking the Deegan administration to show up for his finance committee meeting next week.

“This goes back beyond the current administration, just to be fair,” Salem says, but “I want to understand how it happened and what are we doing to prevent this from happening again in the future. It’s great to set up a process, but we’ve got to follow up on the process.”

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The city says it has taken actions to address all the recommendations the Inspector General’s report made.

Among other things, those items include new, stronger donation agreements, a staff member dedicated to the program and a more robust vetting process of the recipients.

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