FORT LAUDERDALE – Mayor Jim Naugle this week called for sweeping changes to the city’s housing programs after one program prematurely demolished a family’s home.
Under his proposal, Naugle would explore transferring the city’s dozen or so housing assistance and construction programs to the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority, a federally funded agency whose members are appointed by the city commission.
The housing authority’s job is to help people with low incomes find affordable housing.
“I have asked the city manager to look into the idea of contracting with the city’s housing authority to transfer our housing programs to that agency,” Naugle said this week, explaining that the city currently offers a number of housing programs administered through several departments and divisions.
Naugle’s comments came in response to a South Florida Times report last week about the city’s Substantial Rehabilitation/Replacement Program.
The program was supposed to tear down a dilapidated home in the Dilllard Homes community, pay rent for the family of Henry and Andrea Bonner to stay in a temporary house, then build the family a new home.
But after tearing down the family’s dilapidated two-bedroom, one-bath home, the city determined that the family was too wealthy to qualify for the program, and has refused to build the new house.
Furthermore, the family’s lease on a three-bedroom, one-bath Oakland Park home for which the city has been paying rent is slated to expire on March 9. That may leave the family homeless.
“The mayor’s plan is a start, but it does nothing for us,” Henry Bonner said when told of Naugle’s proposal. “We did everything they asked us to do, and now our lease is up this weekend, and no one at the city except the mayor is speaking to us, and he says there is nothing he can do.”
Under contract, the city’s Substantial Rehabilitation/ Replacement Program was supposed to build the family a modern, four-bedroom, two-bath home with amenities, in the same place where the old home stood.
Staff in the city’s Community Development Division moved forward with the Bonner house demolition project before the city’s attorneys completed their review of the family’s application.
Only after the home was demolished did the city’s attorneys determine that the Bonners did not qualify for the program. They said Henry Bonner’s partial interest in another home made him too wealthy to qualify, a notion that Bonner disputes.
Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which holds a mortgage with a principal balance of $79,753.39 on the demolished home, was never notified of the demolition, and the Bonners have continued to pay the mortgage, insurance and taxes on the house, totaling $760 a month.
The city has been making $1,400 a month in lease payments for the temporary house in Oakland Park, plus $333.90 monthly payments to a storage facility that houses the family’s belongings.
More than 19 months after the Bonner home was demolished in January 2006, city attorneys disagreed with staff and concluded that the family did not meet the requirements to participate in the program, after all.
As a result, the Bonners will not get another home. Also, the temporary housing and storage accommodations provided by the city program are in jeopardy.
Landlord Carlos Benitez speaks little English, and said he would have someone else return calls to the South Florida Times.
But as of press time, no one from Benitez’s office had called to respond to questions about whether he would renew the Bonners’ lease.
Currently, the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority operates dozens of programs under its Public Housing, Section 8 Housing, Family Self-Sufficiency, Step-Up Apprenticeship, and Affordable Housing programs that are funded in part from local, state and federal sources.
The city’s programs duplicate many of those housing programs.
Established in 1938, on a resolution put forth by then-City Attorney George English, the Housing Authority functions independently from the city. It has its own five-member board of commissioners who are appointed by the mayor and approved by city commissioners.
The Bonners say the change may be too little, too late to help them. They say the city has not notified them of its intentions regarding their house, despite repeated attempts to reach city officials.
“I asked the city manager several times to respond to their concerns,” Naugle said. “I have also asked for an explanation of what has taken place, but I can’t speak to the issue because I have yet to hear back from [Gretsas]. The commission would still decide what money would be spent on which programs, but as it stands we now have multiple housing programs that do similar work.”
Naugle also said, “It could be a way to economize operations and streamline the programs with better oversight that could prevent future problems.”
Housing Authority Executive Director Tam English, whose grandfather was the city attorney who drafted the 1938 resolution to form the agency, agreed.
“He [Naugle] has mentioned to me that he would float the idea, and there are advantages in consolidating our operations,” English said. “This agency was originally formed to address all housing issues in the city, but somehow over time that changed.
There is a number of things we … could do better by merging the programs and I have always been a supporter of that.”
The Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority has had its share of controversy, as well.
The authority’s former director, Philip Goombs, resigned in 2006 after an internal investigation accused him of steering contracts and public aid to friends and family, allowing construction cost overruns on a new warehouse, and collecting bonuses from a nonprofit affiliated with the Housing Authority, according to The Miami Herald.
Now, even if Naugle’s proposal gets the required approval from a majority of city commissioners, any merger between the city and the housing authority could take place no earlier than the start of the next fiscal year, which begins in October. Bonner said that may be the way of the future, but it has no impact on his family’s current situation.
“I just hope someone will look at us, right now, because we don’t have until next year and they took our home so we have nowhere to go,” he said.