Home Wreckers

Dade's home rehab loan program is more adept at breaking hearts than repairing houses

For weeks she waited for a reply; the leak did more damage. Streams of water ran down the walls. "I've worked hard to own my house," she says in disgust. "The leak was worse off after they finished."

On July 10 a frustrated Bastien sent another letter to the county: "My son quit sleeping in his room. This is an emergency situation because we are living now in the hurricane season and my roof is about to collapse. I am scared. I have reported my case to an attorney because nothing is really done seriously. Those two men, I mean the contractor and the roofer, are playing a game with me. I am begging you for your help, please help me."

At the end of July, Dean wrote A&W Ferguson Roofing, demanding that the subcontractor return and repair the roof. Three months later -- more than a year after the county had signed off on its final inspection -- Oscar DeGuevara, a construction supervisor for the rehab program, sent a letter to Dean and ordered him to repair the damaged ceiling and redo both exterior and interior paint jobs. The contractor failed to respond, and DeGuevara sent another letter on November 18 that included a threat: "If these repairs are not completed by November 25, we will assign another contractor to complete the repairs and remove your company from the list of contractors doing business through our program."

In the end, that's exactly what happened. Tony Dean Construction was pulled from the list of participating contractors in the rehab program by the final months of 1996. That year alone, the contractor had eight complaints lodged against him with the county.

Bastien still smarts at the memory of her home rehab odyssey. Whenever she needs a reminder, all she has to do is look around her house. On the ceilings of various rooms, one can still see the discoloration from the leaking roof. The bars on the windows are still askew, and the kitchen countertop wobbles. "I thought it would be a great deal," she says ruefully.

Other dissatisfied homeowners interviewed by New Times haven't even taken their complaints to the agency, a fact perhaps not surprising considering the program's target population: immigrants, the poor, and the aged. As one elderly woman, who asked not to be identified, explained in Spanish: "I don't want to cause any problems with the authorities."

Some clients did complain, outraged that they or their children were forced to spend considerable sums and have nothing to show for it. Clara Del Monte, a 71-year-old widow, is demanding justice for a wrong she insists cuts deeper than simply a job poorly executed. "What hurts me is that this was the government that is supposed to be protecting my interests," says Del Monte, who fled Cuba with her husband and children in 1961.

Del Monte and her ailing spouse Gaspar went to the county in July 1995, seeking a loan to repair their decrepit twelve-year-old roof after reading an article extolling the program in El Nuevo Herald. When inspector Ricardo Gomez came to the house, he urged her to take full advantage of the opportunity by having her house painted inside and out and replacing the tile in her utility room. "I only wanted the roof, but he kept saying, 'We have the money. Why don't you do more?'" she says.

Gomez estimated the cost of the work at $9518, which he classified as an emergency loan. Del Monte qualified for a deferred loan, one that is payable upon her death or the sale of the property; but even though she wouldn't have to make payments, she protested that the amount was too much. She claims Gomez told her it was an estimate only and might change. When the job was awarded to the state-licensed general contractor Arpechi Windows, Inc., the cost did indeed drop -- by three dollars.

At the end of the year, Del Monte's husband died. Four months later Arpechi began the emergency repairs. The results sent Del Monte into hysterics. Workers dribbled paint on the floor, painted over fixtures, and, she adds, trimmed her patio door improperly and failed to replace the crooked frame so that it became a struggle to open. Less than a year after completion of the work, a painted exterior wall was splotched with mold. More disturbing, Del Monte alleges, are her fears about the materials used for her new roof. She points to a rotten wooden beam sticking out of a sagging shingle above the front door. Despite her misgivings, Gomez said nothing during the agency's final inspection, and an inspector from the county Department of Planning, Development, and Regulation certified that the roof was up to code.

Incensed at what she believes was shoddy workmanship and substandard materials, Del Monte invited several contractors to give her estimates on what it would cost for them to have done the job. Their figures only fed her anger. According to the county, painting her house cost $1890; a contractor Del Monte brought in gave a price of $675. The county's price to install a new roof: $7615. Two separate roofers obtained by Del Monte would have done the original work for $4000 and $3000, respectively.

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