ATLANTA — The city of Atlanta will spend more than $3 million this year on a little known federal program that pays to renovate the homes of elderly residents. It can take years to get to the top of the list. Channel Two Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher heard from one family that was frustrated despite more than $50,000 worth of free work.
The money comes from the federal government to Atlanta City Hall and from there it is distributed to vendors; in this case City Hall chose the group Senior Connections to manage it. Senior Connections picks contractors who do the work for homeowners who have finally gotten to the top of the list.
Belcher met up with private inspector Bob McDonough outside of Eddie Brown’s house in Kirkwood. Brown was selected for the federal program earlier this year. McDonough was called in by the family because they were convinced the work was shoddy.
“You can see there is still a lot of peeling paint, and this area has been freshly painted,” McDonough told Belcher as he showed him around Brown’s home. “In this back bedroom, the ceiling is very badly damaged. It’s actually separating from the ceiling joist,” said McDonough as he pointed to the ceiling damage.
Some of the work did look sub-standard, but Senior Connections told Belcher that is because it was not supposed to be finished for another week. That contradicted an e-mail that our Channel Two Action News investigation revealed dated September 27th, several weeks before Belcher launched his investigation and visited the house.
The e-mail written by a Senior Connections official wrote that touch-up painting was one of the few things left to do. And yet, upon Belcher’s visit McDonough found multiple examples of peeling paint, an unsecured gas line an unsealed storm door and several other issues.
When Belcher asked Brown what he thought of the work, Brown replied, “It wasn’t up to code.”
After Belcher starting making calls, the Brown family told him the contractor returned. Within a week, Brown and his family signed off approving nearly $50,000 worth of work done to his home courtesy of federal taxpayers.
Belcher asked McDonough for one last visit to see if this work was up to code.
Upon walking into the home, McDonough told Belcher, “The ceiling right here is already peeling, and over here we have some chipped paint.”
One of Brown’s daughters told Belcher the work is a blessing. So Belcher asked Senior Connections how a federal program that provides help can leave people unhappy. Senior Connections told Belcher that communications between officials was not very good.
“I would have brought the contractor in and everyone. Let’s stop talking, let’s have one point of contact,” said Debra Furtado of Senior Connections.
Furtado told Belcher the September email suggesting that only touch-up painting was was all that needed to be done was a miscommunication.
Furtado said that their inspector went out to the home and caught many of the issues that needed to be corrected. “So Michael goes out there and has 30-some items that need to be completed, and I know that our staff was — we were not happy with that,’ said Furtado.
Of the contractor, Furtado continued, “I mean we look at contractors, you know and you can imagine that this contractor is one that we’ll really be looking at.”
Furtado also told Belcher that the family’s private inspector did not really understand the program. “Bob was not aware of the program requirements. He also did not want to work within the HUD guidelines,” said Furtado.
Furtado told Belcher that homeowners do not appreciate that the government’s first priority is removing lead paint and asbestos, which can chew up the budget.
It cost $7,800 for lead and asbestos abatement at Brown’s home. Furtado said a lot of people had unreasonable expectations about what $45,000 will do for their home and that new kitchens are not a priority.
“The intent is safety, and safety is not glamorous,” said Furtado.
The maximum for any one home under the federal program is supposed to be $45,000, but Senior Connections stretched it to nearly $50,000 for Brown’s home. The group told Belcher that Brown also received assistance under a different program through their organization. That brought the total spent on repairs to nearly $65,000.
Furtado told Belcher the group will guarantee the work on Brown’s home for a year.