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To Nadia Wright, a veteran suffering from anxiety, depression, and a debilitating organ condition, the cozy north Miami Beach duplex seemed like the perfect place to try to get back on her feet. So in September, the ex-Merchant Marine and her two teenage kids moved into the three-bedroom abode off 81st Street that the Miami Beach Housing Authority had found for her.
But within a month, Wright says, she realized the place was a death trap full of faulty wiring, termites, and exposed water heaters. When she complained after the landlord refused to fix it, she says the housing authority kicked her off the program. Now her family is facing homelessness over the mess.
"Now I have to scramble to cram my kids and I into a studio apartment," she says. "I don't think that is fair."
Eve Boutsis, the housing authority's general counsel, referred Riptide to Shane Suzuki, spokesman for the Miami VA Healthcare System. Citing medical privacy law, Suzuki would not comment about Wright's case. However, he disputes her story. "Under no circumstances would any veteran be removed from our program because they reported anything wrong with their housing," he says.
Wright, who left the Merchant Marines in 2007, had struggled to find work and deal with her disabilities, so the housing authority put her on a program that paid her $1,500 monthly rent.
The first problem, though, came in October when her electric bill — a staggering $800 — arrived. Wright asked Florida Power & Light to check out the home, and inspectors found a rusted electric water heater with exposed wires, more exposed wires on meters, and haphazardly installed backyard outlets, including one on a tree trunk.
Wright says her landlord, Muhammed Islam, refused to fix the problems, so she notified the housing authority. A month later, she received notice she would be terminated from the assistance program January 1. Although she admits she missed two meetings with her case manager — a requirement to continue receiving the subsidy — she says they were hastily scheduled and she was ill in the hospital.
On December 3, Wright reported the shoddy electrical work to the Miami Beach Code Compliance Division. An inspector hit Islam — who did not return Riptide's phone call seeking comment — with 11 code violations.
That might vindicate Wright's complaints, but it doesn't help her figure out where to live next.
"The housing authority and Veterans Affairs dropped the ball," she says. "They realized they put me in a place they deemed livable. When I brought it to their attention, they just found a reason to terminate me."