Mario & CDBG
“I should deed the Property over to you”. And “You might own this house someday”.
In early 2012, I was asked about 72 Carter Street and my relationship with Mario by a staff person at the Ethics Commission. In the discussion about the home, the staff person asked me what I thought Mario’s intentions were with the home. Because the house hadn’t been touched since 1945 and was falling down around him, Mario said things like “I should deed the property over to you.” And “You might own this house someday.” I even told the staff person that it was a joke—Mario’s way of being funny. Mario said it in jest because he knew the place was falling down around him. Unfortunately, the staff person took those words literally and it was used against me. I guess you had to know Mario to get the true meaning of his words.
What was my role in contacting city staff about this project?
Those of you who know me, know that I go the distance – even if I don’t know you. If someone walked in the front door and had a situation exactly like Mario’s I would have done the same thing. What I did in Mario’s case was simple. I talked to our Veterans Director to get services for a well-deserving Veteran who qualified for the program financially, was disabled, and his house needed to be brought up to code. I’m pleased to say that the system worked the way it should have. The Veterans Office and Planning Office work very closely together on resolving Veterans problems and this was no exception. Mario and his home were completely qualified for this program and I am pleased that Mario got the help he needed.
No inspection or veteran status? The file says otherwise.
The process to get Mario assistance was started when he entered the hospital on December 16, 2007. As you will see in the attached document from the Veterans Director, we asked ServPro to come clean up the house. They refused – saying it was too far gone. Actually, what they said was “not habitable”. That everything needed to be replaced. That was on December 18. On December 17, the day after Mario went into the hospital, the Veterans Director sent a letter to the Housing Rehab Specialist verifying Mario’s income and Veteran status. Within days, the Housing Rehab Specialist drew up a scope of work to bid the project after visiting the house. It is clear that the condition of the home was known and Mario’s Veteran status was immediately verified by the attached documentation from his housing rehab file.
The Housing Rehab Specialist indicated that he had not inspected the home and that he did not know Mario was a Veteran. Clearly the attached documents show otherwise.
No need for repairs? Not an emergency?
As stated in the Veterans Director notes ServPro observed the following and refused to come back. “ServePro saw the house and refused to do any work. They say the house is too bad, everything must come out. Floors, carpets, ceilings have mold, urine everywhere. Not habitable.”
The contention is that the house did not need emergency repairs. Yet as the scope of work was developed, it was determined by the Housing Rehab Specialist and other building department employees that the house was so bad it also needed a new water line and new electrical service panel. It was even determined by CDBG staff that new vinyl windows should be put in. I remember saying “Why? Mario never, ever opens the windows” and I told them not to do it. Sure enough, on that June day when Mario passed away, it was over 100 degrees in the house and all those new windows had never been opened even three years after the rehab work was complete.
“We really can’t go forward with this.” And “I’ll worry about the paperwork.”
The first I became aware of a problem with the “paperwork” was when the Housing Rehab Specialist sent me an email THIRTY-THREE MONTHS after the rehab work was complete. I wasn’t aware there was a problem with the deed and even if there was a problem, as I stated at the City Council meeting on April 25, 2011, a lien can be put on the house no matter what, even with problems with a deed. There was absolutely no reason not to put a lien on this property. But it became obvious that this was not the first time liens were an issue. It is for this reason that I began to look closely at the program and make changes.
And yet there was an all out effort to draw this situation to the attention of anyone that would listen including the City Council and the press.
The file on Mario’s housing rehab project is one misstep after another. As you will see in the attached paperwork, the first application is made out and signed by “Mario”. For reasons unknown, after Mario signed the paperwork, there was a second application made out to “Edward” (who had been dead for over two years at that point). The building permit is made out to “James Cavaioli” who lived down the street but has no connection to this property. As you will see, the Housing Rehabilitation Specialist even certifies that Edward is the owner despite the fact that he has been dead for a number of years.
And as for those new windows? The scope of work on the building permit includes the new windows in the cost final cost of $19,850 yet later there was supposedly a change order to include new windows to bring the cost to $25,119. Which is it?
Skipping over waiting list and proceeding without a lien
So Veterans and “the most needy” are supposed to go to the top of the waiting list as “emergencies”. The Housing Rehab Specialist told Ethics that he did not consider this property an emergency and therefore my influence on getting Mario help was called an “unwarranted privilege”. Honestly, it made me feel bad. I wasn’t told we skipped over people. Turns out, we didn’t. Turns out there was no waiting list. And against the program guidelines, properties are sold, refinanced and transferred without the City getting their money back. It’s the reason the program has $3.1 million in back loans—money that could be used for other people in need.
As for the need for this project, I think the pictures and Mario’s story speak for themselves. ServPro, the Veterans Director, neighbors, the nieces, and the Planning Director can speak to the need for repairs as soon as possible. Even the CDBG staff were thrilled, saying this is the perfect use of this money.
“This project epitomized CDBG and what it is meant to do” – CDBG staff
I encourage you to read the full story on what we’ve found out about the CDBG program under CDBG: fact vs. fiction.