FORT LAUDERDALE – City commissioners agreed on April 15 to build a new home for a family whose house the city had demolished as part of an improvement program.
But the approval came with a caveat from Commissioner Carlton Moore: The family would have to accept the terms of the building agreement within 48 hours, or the city would cut off the rent payments it has been making for the family’s temporary home.
“I would like to amend the motion that is on our agenda backup tonight. I’d like to give this recipient 48 hours to come in and complete the necessary paperwork to be reconsidered to see if they meet the income guidelines,” Moore said. “And if they do not come in that 48 hours, that they are to be given a notice that we’re no longer paying their rent. That we’re no longer paying their storage.’’
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 since the plan was approved more than two years ago, as well as rental and storage fees for the family, which has been staying in the temporary home while awaiting the city’s approval.
The program funding is capped at $198,000 per family. The project has now reached an estimated completion cost of $223,303.
An April 8 memo from City Manager George Gretsas to commissioners recommended approval of the additional funds to help build a new home for Henry and Andrea Bonner, and their four children, but the 48-hour ultimatum might jeopardize the deal.
Moore criticized the family and questioned what he deemed the family’s lack of urgency to complete the documentation for the city to pay their rent and store their belongings.
On April 16, the day after the commission vote, a city employee delivered the 48-hour ultimatum to the home where the Bonners have been living temporarily. Henry Bonner forwarded the documents to his attorney, former state Rep. Chris Smith.
The 48-hour time clock began ticking upon delivery of the documents to the family.
“I think it’s more of an update…but the agreement has changed substantially where it went from a 10-year mortgage and now it’s 15 years,” Smith said.
“Normally these things can’t be reviewed in 48 hours, so I’m confident it won’t be enforced.”
After Smith reviewed the complete package, he wrote in 10 years for the mortgage and crossed out the 15-year requirement. After he did that, the family signed the agreement and turned it in to the city before the deadline.
It was unclear if the city would accept the changes.
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.
The city’s 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 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.
Henry Bonner remains skeptical of the city’s efforts.
“They knocked down our home, have delayed us for years, and now Carlton [Moore] wants to rush us into signing something…,” Bonner said. “This is just incredible.”
Photo by Elgin Jones: Henry Bonner