Housing Rehab recipients react to arrests

By Carolyn Roy - bio|email

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The federally-funded program at the heart of an investigation into fraud and misuse of taxpayer funds by city-hired contractors and inspectors has been temporarily suspended.

Shreveport Community Development Office helps elderly and low-income citizens find help for everything from finding affordable housing to workforce development programs, as well as administering federal grants for programs like the Limited Repair Program.

It was under that program that investigators say they found eight homes in which work was either barely done, done incorrectly or not at all.  Bessie Broadway's home in Mooretown was one of them.

"They went up in the attic, did work in the attic and other things that had to be done," remembers Broadway's son, Lugene Young.  Young says he had no idea the work they were doing on his mother's house was not up to par.

But when a Caddo Sheriff's Detective knocked on her door a few months later to check on the work that the city-hired contractors were supposed to have done, they found none of it had been done properly. "Well that hurt me, it's hurt me,"  "but I didn't get angry about it," says Broadway, who is blind.  "I just think it's just terrible to take advantage of anyone in that condition," her son says.

The attic was supposed to have been completely re-insulated.  Investigators found barely a few scraps of the stuff scattered about.  The air conditioning unit was supposed to have been replace.  Instead, investigators say contractor James Lester did some basic repairs on the existing unit and slapped a new sticker on it.

"They left holes in my walls after they cut the plugs," says 68 year old Helen Davis, a Queensborough resident who had been told her old home's wiring was in desperate need of replacing.  Davis says she knew something wasn't right after the contractors left and found she could no longer plug in more than one appliance in her kitchen without blowing the circuit. "I feel we could catch fire because they're all hooked up to one circuit."

Davis says she even complained several times to the city.  "I told 'em the electrician didn't do the wiring for the lights and the ceiling fans and different things and they said since it was working there wasn't any danger."   What's more, Davis says, city inspector Jackie Mandigo even asked her to sign the contract before the work was ever done, promising the contractors would not be paid until it was done.  They never returned, and Davis says another contractor had to be paid to cover holes allegedly left in the walls by the electrical subcontractor hired by Alphonso Williams.

Signing that contract is a decision Davis now regrets, but she says she's glad they've all been busted. "Matter of fact I feel good.  I should be ashamed to say so, but I'm an elderly person, I live here alone and people can take advantage of elderly people."

Now, the Limited Repair Program, is suspended, along with the rest of the programs under the Community Development Office's Housing Rehabilitation Program. Community Development Director Bonnie Moore says with the three inspectors facing charges, there's no one left to conduct inspections for the city.  All three have been placed on administrative leave with pay.  Moore also says the contractors arrested were involved in work on other contracts under the program.  Now the city will have to figure out who will do the inspections and carry out the contract work.

Shreveport Mayor Glover says the suspension of the program will also allow time for a review of its administration and oversight.  "We want to make sure that going forth we are in a position to ensure that every aspect and level of that program is functioning in the way and in the manner in which it should." Glover says an internal audit of the office is already in the works.

Moore Monday afternoon dedicated a phone line specifically to handle all telephone calls and inquiries concerning future participation in the Revitalization Housing Project.

Moore says homeowners with questions or concerns should call Housing Administrator Valerie Ervin at (318) 673-7555.

"Mrs. Ervin will man the line to readily provide the necessary information and will forward that information to me to ensure that our project participants receive immediate attention," says Moore.

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