Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority Commissioner resigns as sober homes fines mount

WSVN — A Fort Lauderdale housing authority commissioner has resigned in the wake of a 7News investigation. We exposed disturbing conditions in homes she owns in the city. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is back on the case.

It was last month when 7News exposed mushrooms and mold growing on a bathroom ceiling. Steps away, the bedrooms of residents of a Fort Lauderdale sober home.

Logan Broliath: "It’s gotten much worse and the tenants have to breathe that in. Currently there are actually four tenants in that unit."

Sober homes are supposed to offer help and stability to recovering addicts and those with emotional or mental issues. Some residents are sent to sober homes by court order.

Jacquel Turk: "I was told there was a better hope on this end. That I’ll be helped with my well-being and with living arrangements."

But we found questionable living conditions at sober homes owned by Maria Freeman. At the time, she was a member of the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, an agency dedicated to assisting "low income families with safe, decent and affordable housing."

Jacquel Turk: "Everyone is complaining about bed bugs, roaches, rat feces, urine, no AC. There’s no TV working. There’s no phone working."

There were rat droppings on a toaster oven and refrigerator. The windowsill smelled of urine and rodent droppings. Foam was sprayed along baseboards in what appears to be an attempt at pest control. And there was a bathroom window that would not close in a home for women.

Freeman claimed not to know about the deplorable conditions, even though there is a gaping hole in the ceiling of that moldy bathroom.

Maria Freeman: "Well, we’ve been trying to take care of it. We’ve had the bathtub changed, replaced upstairs."

Carmel Cafiero: "What about the black mold here?"

Maria Freeman: "Honestly this is the first time I’ve seen this particular mold."

Now the city says Freeman has resigned from her post with the housing authority.

Jack Seiler: "I personally would not let a family member live in those conditions. I would not let a family member or friend reside in one of those units."

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler appointed Freeman to the board and told me she did good work in the past, but based on conditions at her sober homes, he would not have reappointed her. 

Jack Seiler: "Her term was going to be up next year. I would not have reappointed her because of these issues. I mean, obviously we need our Housing Authority to be focused on making sure we have safe, secure, clean, sanitary housing."

Maria Freeman did not return our calls for comment, so we do not know her reason for resigning. Earlier, she admitted the conditions we found were unacceptable.

Carmel Cafiero: "And these are sober homes. These are people in need aren’t they?"

Maria Freeman: "Nobody should have to live like that, regardless of who they are."

Meanwhile, the future of her homes appear questionable. She failed to appear at a Code Enforcement hearing where three of her properties were hit with violations. If not repaired, fines will start adding up at the rate of almost $6,000 a day. That would be on top of two other properties that have already amassed more than $109,000 in fines. 

And that’s not all. Freeman is also fighting a negligence lawsuit in connection with the murder of a resident in one of her sober homes. The death appears to be the result of a drug deal gone bad. Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

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