The city of Fort Lauderdale finally plans to make good on a promise to build a new house for a family whose old home was torn down under a city improvement program, according to an internal city memo.
More than two years ago, the city approved an application from Henry and Andrea Bonner to tear down the family’s dilapidated home and build a new one using state and federal funds.
But after tearing down the old house, the city determined that the family did not meet the program’s requirements, and refused to build the new one, leaving the family on the verge of homelessness.
Yet an internal city memo obtained by the South Florida Times on Wednesday states that the city has once again reconsidered its position. The memo surfaced three weeks after the newspaper reported the city’s position that it would not build the new home.
The city commission may vote to approve the new home’s construction as early as April 1.
“Are you sure?” Henry Bonner asked when a reporter informed him of the new determination from city staff. “No one is telling us anything, but this is just great. Can I get a copy of that memo?’’
The two-page March 13 memo from City Manager George Gretsas to city commissioners – which the South Florida Times made available to Bonner – states, “Staff was advised by the city attorney that they received on Tuesday, March 11, acceptable documentations to proceed with the Bonner application process. Due to the time lapse since the Bonner’s initial application submittal, we are required to re-bid the Bonner project.’’
The family’s plight was first brought to light through a series of South Florida Times reports that detailed how the city left the family facing homelessness. The newspaper reported that the city, through its attorneys, concluded that the family was too wealthy to participate in the city’s Substantial Rehabilitation/Replacement Housing Program.
That determination came in August 2007, more than a year after the program had approved them for the home demo, and more than 19 months after a city contractor had demolished the family’s dilapidated house in the working-class Dillard Homes neighborhood in northwest Fort Lauderdale.
The program has now provided the family with nearly two years’ worth of payments to cover the $1,400 monthly rent on the temporary home, and $333.90 monthly payments to another facility to store the family’s furniture and other belongings.
The city's attorneys said Henry Bonner had a financial interest in another property, and it meant his total wealth exceeded the program’s $50,000 asset limit.
The Bonners denied any such ownership, and continued to contest the decision. The city’s attorneys have blocked construction of the new home over the asset issue, leaving the family in limbo beyond the March 9 end date of the lease on the temporary home.
The Bonners’ attorney, former state Rep. Chris Smith, sent sworn affidavits to the city’s attorneys last week, restating that the family held no ownership interest in the other property.
Those affidavits apparently resolved the issue.
Gretsas has neither returned repeated calls from the South Florida Times, nor responded to directives from Mayor Jim Naugle and City Commissioner Christine Teel to answer the newspaper’s numerous requests for explanations.
Now the final decision appears headed to city commissioners at their next meeting on April 1. Commissioners will be asked to approve additional funding required to complete the project because the construction cost has increased in the last two years, according to the memo from Gretsas.
After reading a copy of the internal memo provided by the South Florida Times, Bonner said he was pleased, yet he remained cautious, even skeptical, that things would get moving.
“Like I said, we’re pleased to see something happening, but this has been going on for more than three years and no one except the newspaper has told us anything,” Bonner said. “Hopefully it happens, but we’ve been made promises before and I don’t trust the city, or the program until my family has a house.’’
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. From left to right, Andrea, Henry and Shandrea Bonner.