Originally created 01/07/01

'They have ruined my home'



There are cracks in the city's housing rehab program wide enough for thousands of taxpayers' dollars to fall through. And some of Augusta's elderly and poor homeowners who had their houses rehabilitated through the program say they have been severely disappointed.

"You just don't know how much it has upset me that they have ruined my home," said 72-year-old Moore Avenue homeowner Vietta Anderson. "I am sick. I am so sick. I worked hard to pay for my home. I worked 16 years at Sibley and Enterprise mills as a spinner."

Keven Mack, director of the city's Housing and Neighborhood Development Department, and his rehab staff, including inspectors who sign off on the contractors' work, blame the homeowners. They say homeowners misunderstand the purpose of the rehab program, expect too much and don't report their problems to the proper housing officials.

"One of the main misconceptions is that people think it's a remodeling program, and it's not a remodeling program," Mr. Mack said. "It's a rehabilitation program where we try to extend the life of a house maybe 15 or 20 more years."

But some Augusta commissioners disagree with Mr. Mack's definition of "rehabilitation."

"Keven wants to say how much money they spent," Commissioner Marion Williams said. "They spent $25,000 to $30,000 on those houses. If you spend $2, you ought to do $2 worth of work.

"There's a lady on John's Road. Her house is really in bad shape. They went in there. They robbed the government. That's what they done, now. They took the money and didn't do nothing."

Commissioner Andy Cheek agrees.

"Basically, these people are ripping off poor people," he said.

The Housing Department provides the rehab program with money - $1.15 million this year - the city receives annually from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to rehabilitate the residences of low- and moderate-income homeowners.

Homeowners qualify for various types of loans, based on their incomes. Some of the loans are "forgiven" or paid off with the federal tax money at the rate of 20 percent a year, costing the homeowners nothing.

Others, such as Mrs. Anderson, qualify for "splits," low-interest loans that pay part of the rehab contract costs, with HUD money paying the rest. And some repay the entire amount of the rehab cost.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Cheek tried to do something about the rehab program in June when they asked some of the homeowners with major complaints to air them before the commission. Commissioners voted to give Mr. Mack 30 days to remedy the homeowners' problems and "get things straightened out."

Mr. Mack has been under fire for more than a year for not doing more to improve housing in the inner city.

Cost of repairs

Below are the totals the independent contractors who bid on and completed rehabilitation projects for the city's Housing Department were paid last year:

Curry Home Improvements, $310,152

Blount's Complete Home Service Inc., $150,526

J.B. Construction, $126,455

H&R Home Design, $70,979

Griffin Construction & Electrical Contracting, $70,826

B&T Electric & Construction, $60,057

Ted Clark Construction, $55,648

Pope Builders & Designers, $54,349

Door To Door House Maintenance & Remodeling, $50,000

Omega Homes, $50,000

C.B. Walker Contractor, $48,725

Rickerson Construction Co., $43,825

Twentieth Century Construction, $42,253

Pardue Construction, $41,825

Nation Builders, $39,978

C.R. Builders Inc., $39,280

Carl's Welding & Backhoe Service Inc., $38,001

Quality Remodeling & Construction, $26,826

Plumb Pro Plumbing and Contracting, $23,750

Jay & Jay Construction, $18,056

Total: $1,361,511

Source: Augusta Housing and Neighborhood Development Department records.

At the June meeting, Elaine Williams Jones recited a litany of problems her mother, Carrie Hatney, had experienced during the rehab of her Bryn Mawr Street home. Mrs. Hatney is elderly and was unable to come to the meeting, Mrs. Jones said.

Afterward, city officials asked a housing inspector from the Augusta Housing Authority to inspect Mrs. Hatney's house and issue an independent report. Inspector Dennis Mack found that the house did not meet the Housing Quality Standards criteria as required by the Code of Federal Regulations for the Section 8 Programs.

Among the 13 deficiencies cited were windows painted shut; torn kitchen floor covering, which needed molding; kitchen cabinet drawers in disrepair; a broken bedroom window; missing window screens; a trip hazard at the kitchen entrance; unlevel sub-flooring; and cracks around a bathroom window.

The Housing and Neighborhood Development staff said they had corrected the problems of the homeowners who spoke at the meeting, but one said last week her living room carpet still puckers, and the outline of the old kitchen vinyl is clearly visible under the new vinyl.

"You can call people so long, after awhile you get tired, but I wouldn't recommend those people to anybody," said Amsterdam Drive homeowner Bessie Stephens. "And you know they seem to think you're trying to get something for nothing, but anything I have ever gotten I have had to pay for it.

"Most of us are senior citizens, and we have worked and retired, and it looks like they just don't care."

Mrs. Stephens said government officials should come in themselves and look at the houses.

"I said that about welfare and every other program," she said. "Giving people authority over money and not coming to see if it's spent right is just like keeping the money. I think it's a good program, but it needs some - like my grandmother used to say - tending to."

Mrs. Stephens will pay back $10,000, plus 2 percent interest, of the $25,175 rehab costs on her home, but she disputes the work really cost that much.

"I called Keven Mack," she said. "I told him there wasn't no $24,000 worth of work done in this house. I said, `You can't show me that.'

"He said he was going to show me on paper. You can write anything down on paper. That's easily done. I don't think it cost any more to do what they did to this house than what I paid - $10,000."

Wrightsboro Road homeowner Metter Hudson sent her list of 41 complaints, along with photos, to the HUD office in Atlanta. A HUD official called Mr. Mack and advised him to set up a meeting with her. By April, only 13 deficiencies remained.

Last week, Mrs. Hudson said all had been remedied but one.

"All I'm concerned of now is the roof," she said. "It's still leaking."

Mr. Williams said nobody should have to go through what Mrs. Hudson did to get the work done right. The fault lies not only with contractors doing sloppy work, he said, but also with the city inspectors who allow them to get away with it.

Inspectors sign off on work at various stages throughout the rehab process to ensure that it is completed properly. But in Mrs. Hudson's case and others, the inspectors apparently weren't doing their job, Mr. Williams said.

"Every one of them ought to be fired," he said.

Mr. Cheek said something is wrong when poor people who receive government money get substandard work and it's approved and allowed to continue.

"This is why these houses we rehab look just as bad a year later," he said. "We have got to change the way we allow people to be treated. These are poor people in a lot of cases that wouldn't complain. They're thankful for anything they get."

Since the June meeting, other people have voiced complaints about the rehab program, including the Andersons.

Some days, Mrs. Anderson, who is crippled by arthritis, sits in her wheelchair and cries all day over what has happened to her home, she said.

Her husband, J.W., 64, is also disabled. The former city worker has a pacemaker, one kidney, and a steel rod in his back. He needs a hearing aid but won't wear one, and he boasts he's been "dead three times but came back every time."

More than two years ago, Mrs. Anderson applied for a grant through the Housing Department to rehabilitate her house.

The terms of Mrs. Anderson's loan call for her to pay back $10,000 at 2 percent interest over 15 years. HUD money paid $14,000.

The project was put up for bid, and the job went to low-bidder Curry Home Improvement, which began work in October.

That's when the Andersons' nightmare began, they said.

During a recent visit to their home, they pointed out paint on floors, furniture and windows; frayed carpet edges where old molding was removed and not replaced; silver roof paint sprayed on red brick chimneys; and a gas leak the contractor's plumber couldn't find. A gas company official later found that a switch in the water heater had been improperly installed.

During the past two years, Curry Home Improvement was paid $592,023 for 26 rehab projects, according to city records.

Owner Mack Curry did not return telephone messages and pages seeking his input into this article.

Mr. Mack's staff said the Andersons posed problems for them from the start.

New Housing Director James Steele, rehab specialist Hattie Hogan and administrative assistant Peggy Kennedy said they had not received any formal complaints from Mrs. Anderson.

Suspended contractors

Below are three independent contractors who were suspended from the housing department's approved contractors list:

Roan Cunningham, DBA Nation Builders, was suspended July 5 on grounds he did not complete a project on time and did sloppy work. One of the houses Nation Builders worked on belongs to Overn Anderson, 518 Laney Walker Blvd.

Carl F. Jordan, DBA Twentieth Century Construction, was suspended Dec. 14 on grounds he did not complete four of five projects on time.

Ted Clark, DBA Ted Clark Construction, was suspended March 14 because of complaints about sloppy work and not communicating with clients. One of the houses the company worked on belongs to Wayne and Lisa Ellison of 50 Tuttle St.

Source: Augusta Housing and Neighborhood Development Department records and officials

"As you can see in the file, we don't have any notations," Ms. Hogan said.

"For her customer satisfaction service she filled it out "yes" all the way through and signed it," Mrs. Kennedy said.

Mrs. Anderson said she called Mr. Mack personally and asked him to come and see what the contractor had done to her house, and he sent a team of inspectors there.

She said that when she signed a paper for Mr. Curry, she did not know what it was.

"When he brought that paper to me the last day of October, he said he had to take it down there for a meeting," she said. "He did not say that was the paper to sign for it to be finished, and I dare him to say he did."

She began to cry, saying she thought people would say she was a liar.

Mrs. Kennedy said people have a set idea of what they want, and when they call on the phone they immediately say what they need done.

"I tell them we have to bring the house up to code," she said. "We have HUD guidelines we have to follow. You can't tell us what you want. We can tell you what we can do for you because we have a limited amount of money.

"And when they don't get what they want, they're like Mrs. Anderson. She pitched a fit. She was going to get what she wanted. ... We have several of those. We have some that are so grateful for anything that we can do, and we have those that you can't do enough."

Mr. Steele said the city closed 73 projects last year and had received only seven formal complaints. In 1999, there were 51 projects and seven formal complaints.

But the people who did complain had dozens of them.

In 1999, Tate Road resident Jeanette Gavin listed 15 problems, including paint on chairs, tables and ceiling fans, and damage to her vinyl siding. The first contractor had to be replaced with another.

Amsterdam Drive homeowner Robert Shuford had 25 complaints. Joan Burnett of Mike Padgett Highway had 25. Bullock Avenue homeowner Cynthia Mack had 11. Johns Road resident Emma Bussey never called the department with a complaint, the rehab staff said, but after her problems were aired at the June commission meeting, they were resolved, they said.

Last year, Tuttle Street homeowners Wayne and Lisa Ellison's first contractor was suspended because of complaints about sloppy work and not communicating with clients.

Barbara Coleman submitted a list of 23 problems with the rehab work on her Tubman Road house.

Jennifer Crawford's first contractor was also removed and another was assigned after she submitted a three-page list of problems with the work on her Chadwick Road house, including damaged furniture and paint on furniture and rugs. Mrs. Crawford said workers used her towels to clean up their paint spills and left them for her to wash.

Mr. Cheek is not impressed by the seven complaints per year.

"When one person, maybe two or three people complain, you can ignore it, but when you get four or five people, it's a trend," he said. "And that's the things that concerns me."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.