Homeowner faults U.S.-Mesa housing aid program - East Valley Tribune: News

Homeowner faults U.S.-Mesa housing aid program

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Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 11:25 pm | Updated: 12:02 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

When Deborah Kimball’s application for money to pay for home repairs through a city-run program was approved, the Mesa resident thought she and her 4-year-old twin boys had a chance at a better quality of life.

She also thought the city would be there to help her if problems arose.

But two years after the contractor and the city signed off on the project, Kimball is still waiting for problems with the work done on her home to be fixed.

“It was supposed to improve my quality of life but it did quite the opposite,” Kimball said.

Now, after two years of battling with both the city and the contractor,

Kimball said she has given up hope that her complaints will be resolved anytime soon. She is holding out hope for some resolution through the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, the state’s regulatory agency looking into the case.

The city maintains the work was done properly and met code requirements, and any remaining disputes are between Kimball and the contractor, Phoenix-based Knucks Corp.

Knucks officials acknowledge there are some repairs that still need to be done, but add many of Kimball’s complaints are not related to the work performed by the company.

The lesson Kimball said she’s learned is that even when a home repair project is paid for with a government grant, it is still up to the homeowner to make sure the work is done right.

Kimball, a single mom, qualified for about $50,000 through a federally-funded housing rehabilitation program for low-income residents in 2005. The money was supposed to pay for roof repairs and electrical work, among other things.

Kimball said she hired Knucks Corp. because the company was on a list of contractors she obtained from the city that were qualified to do the work.

But despite that, city officials did little when she came to them with complaints, and instead told her she would have to work out her differences directly with the contractor, she said.

Chris De Caluwe, Mesa’s housing supervisor, said that while the city administers the federal program, and inspects repairs to ensure they meet city building codes, its job is not to arbitrate disputes between homeowners and the contractors.

Those disputes are up to the Registrar of Contractors to resolve, De Caluwe said.

The city does provide a list of approved contractors to people qualifying for the home improvement money, De Caluwe said. The homeowner narrows the list to four, and the one submitting the lowest bid gets the work, he said.

Information on how to select a contractor is given to the homeowner, along with phone numbers of the Registrar of Contractors and the Better Business Bureau for the resident to check if the contractor is in good standing, De Caluwe said.

Kimball said she did that.

The program that Kimball qualified for is funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mesa processes the applications from city residents.

The program is meant to benefit low-income residents and the elderly. In Mesa, there is a waiting list of 120 applicants, with a dramatic rise in requests for help over the last year, De Caluwe said. Typical requests are for repairs to air-conditioning and heating systems and roofs, he said.

In the current fiscal year ending July 1, Mesa’s program processed $1.7 million to pay for repairs on 144 homes through the federal program.

In the past five years, the city has received two complaints related to the program, De Caluwe said.

When disputes over work performed under the program arise, HUD should be notified, Larry Bush, a spokesman for the federal agency, stated in an e-mail. If a homeowner complains to the federal agency, its personnel would contact the city and ask for a review, he said.

Kimball said problems on her house began almost immediately, and that she notified the city of her complaints rather than HUD. At first, she was told by city officials to document the problems, which included a leaky roof, bubbling walls and faulty electrical wiring, she said.

Kimball said she did that with photos and other documents.

Eventually, Mesa’s housing services department stopped taking her calls or acknowledging her e-mails and letters, she said.

It’s been about two years since she heard anything from the city, Kimball said.

Kimball contacted the Registrar of Contractors in December 2007 after being told to file a complaint with that agency by a lawyer. The registrar’s office concluded after an inspection in January that some of the work, including roof repairs and defects in the exterior stucco, was not performed properly and should be repaired by the contractor.

Perry Walker, president of Knucks Corp., said he agrees the roof repairs done by his company need additional work, which he is willing to do. But Walker adds many of Kimball’s complaints involve problems with the house his company did not work on.

Walker said he has been willing to fix most of the items except for a few, especially drywall repair, for which he said he’s not liable. That’s the reason he said he’s unwilling to repair other items he agrees need to be fixed.

Walker said the legitimate problems have been resolved to the city’s satisfaction.

“She has to understand this was supposed to be a health and safety upgrade work, not an extreme makeover,” Walker said of Kimball.

Jack Clark, the Registrar of Contractors’ inspector handling the case, said he checked Kimball’s house again last week and will be sending a new list of fixes for Knucks to make.

If the company doesn’t fix the problems, then Kimball can ask for an administrative hearing at which a judge will resolve her disputes with Knucks. That could take months, Clark said.

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