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City and county officials, who were inspecting the All American Gardens Apartments in Camden on Wednesday, agreed: No one should have to live like this.
“I literally can’t even be in my house peaceful,” said Jasmine Vega, a resident at the complex.
Vega has lived there for at least six years. She puts up with roaches and other bugs, black mold, and mushrooms growing out of the wall.
A Camden County health inspector recently instructed her to remove an overhead light fixture to dump out the dead roaches inside of it.
“I have to look at every corner to make sure there’s nothing in there,” she said. “There was mildew on my ceiling in the bathroom. When I asked them about coming out and doing something about it, they literally told me just to clean it up myself.”
Vega’s neighbors told WHYY News similar stories.
Betzaida Kellum, who has lived in the complex for 16 years, said she recently discovered she has been “living over water.” Moisture from pipes caused mold in one bedroom, which now has a missing piece of floor with exposed beams.
She told the mayor that her kids slept with her because their bedroom was uninhabitable.
According to Kellum, management cracked a joke about the mushrooms growing in the unit.
“Mushrooms grew out of my freaking bathroom and he said ‘I didn’t know you was a farmer on the side,’” she said.
Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen said the property manager’s conduct is unacceptable.
“This is the irresponsibility of the management here,” he said. “What I’m seeing in [what] this young lady’s going through. No one should be going through anything like this.”
Caruso has a history of complaints in 2 states
All American Gardens is owned by Nationwide Housing Management, based in Camden County. Its founder and principal, Joe Caruso, has a history of violations with the county health department.
“We had violations from this property all the way from July of last year,” said Camden County Health Officer Dr. Paschal Nwako, adding there were 13 summonses pending in municipal court.
Caruso also got into trouble in Florida.
In 2021, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote a letter to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, asking her agency to inspect 29 properties. Caruso’s was one of them.
Rubio said his staffers found “evidence of chronic administrative neglect, including severe rodent and pest infestations, black mold, crumbling structural integrity, and general disrepair” in all those properties.
Caruso disputed the claims. He told the Ocala Star Banner “they have completed maintenance projects at the apartments, and further checks are planned.”
A message for comment left for Caruso at his corporate office was not returned.
‘Conditions in prisons are better than the conditions in their homes’
The All American Gardens Apartments complex is located in the Centerville section of Camden, one of the city’s challenging neighborhoods.
Police Chief Gabriel Rodriguez tries to stay connected to the area. His father lives close by and it was one of his first patrol beats.
“We always look at…what is the root cause of the issues that we have so many youth running the streets wild,” he said. “If they have to live in those conditions, conditions in prisons are better than the conditions in their homes.”
Vega, who has struggled with roaches and mold, had to send her oldest daughter to live with a grandmother because her home posed a health risk.
“She has very severe allergies and she tends to get a lot of other respiratory issues and stuff,” she said.
Her neighbor, Kellum, broke down while talking to Mayor Carstarphen about sending her kids to live with relatives.
“I love my kids so much,” she said. “I’m going through separation anxiety right now, like not being able to be with them.”
Camden officials vow action against slumlord
Camden County Health Officer Nwako said officials would condemn some of the apartments if Nationwide Property Management did not respond to the violations.
At that point, residents would either be relocated to another apartment that is up to code or be placed in a hotel. The landlord would have to foot the bill.
The mayor has a message for every property owner in the city, who doesn’t take care of their residents.
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