henryandreashandreabonner.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE _  City commissioners agreed on Tuesday to build a new home for a family whose house was torn down by the city as part of an improvement project.

But the approval came with a caveat: The family must accept the terms of the building agreement within 48 hours, or the city will cut off rent payments it has been making for the family's temporary home.

“I’d like to add to the motion to give this family 48 hours to come in and sign the documents, or we stop the paying the rent and storage fees,” said Commissioner Carlton Moore.

The amended motion passed 4-to-1 with Commissioner Charlotte Rodstrom voting against it.

The measure allows for an increase of more than $25,000 in the home replacement plan’s  cost, enough to cover increased construction costs as well as rental and storage fees for the family, which has been staying in the temporary home while awaiting the city’s approval.

 “This item is a request for the city commission to authorize an exception to the maximum loan-to-value requirements and maximum assistance level for two clients participating in the City’s Substantial Rehabilitation/Replacement Housing Program,” reads an April 8 memo from City Manager George Gretsas to commissioners.

The memo recommended approval of the additional funds to help build a new home for Henry and Andrea Bonner along with their four children, but the 48-hour ultimatum might jeopardize the deal.

 Moore criticized the family and questioned what he called the family’s lack of urgency to complete the documentation for the city to pay their rent and store their belongings.

 Henry Bonner said the family needed time to have their lawyer review the documents.

 “They tried to get me to sign a stack of documents and would not let me take them for review,” Henry Bonner explained after learning of Moore’s motion. “The new package calls for a 15-year mortgage, when the first one required just 10 years, so there is no telling what else they have changed, and I won’t sign without an attorney looking at it first.”

 The Bonners were accepted into the city’s Substantial Rehabilitation/Replacement Housing program in 2005, after city inspectors determined that their home was structurally unsafe.

After a city contractor demolished the home in January 2006, the city began paying rent for the family’s relocation to a temporary home, and began paying storage fees for the family’s belongings.

But more than 19 months after the demolition, the city – through its attorneys – determined that the family did not meet the program’s qualifications after all.

The city attorneys said Henry Bonner held an interest in another property bequeathed to his family, and this made the family too wealthy to qualify for the program, which is aimed at improving homes in low-income areas. Bonner denied owning any interest in the other property, and that issue has now been resolved, according to the internal memo.

As they wrangled with the city over the property dispute, the family faced the prospect of homelessness because the city threatened to stop making rent payments on the temporary home.

But after the family’s plight was detailed in a February South Florida Times report, city officials began to revisit their determination.

Bonner, however, remained skeptical.

“They don’t want us to see exactly what they have done,” Bonner said. “It’s clear to me something is going on.” 

The city’s Substantial Rehabilitation/ Replacement Program is intended to bring rundown properties up to current living standards.

Zero-interest loans and mortgages are available for eligible families, with the money slated for repairs and for demolition of homes that are beyond repair.

The demolition portion of the program is supposed to replace the dilapidated properties with new homes at the same locations. 

According to the April 8 memo from Gretsas, the delay in completing the Bonner project was due to questions about his ownership in the other property, and late completion of architectural and engineering services provided by a city contractor. 

The Substantial Rehabilitation/Replacement Housing Program funding is capped at $198,000 per family. The Bonner project has now reached an estimated completion cost of $223,303.

While commissioners did approve the measure, Bonner said 48 hours is not enough time for anyone to review that many documents. He said the program’s managers refused to allow him to take copies.

“They knocked down our home, have delayed us for years, and now Carlton [Moore] wants to rush us into signing something without reading it,” Bonner said. “This is just incredible.”


Photo by Elgin Jones. Andrea Bonner, left, Henry Bonner, center, and Shandrea Bonner, right.