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More horror stories emerge from city program

Tuesday, May 8, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Since the Austin Monitor published the story last month detailing problems some Austinites have had with contractors hired by the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development department to rehabilitate their homes, more people have come forward with their own horror stories.

This time, the contractor in question is Camilo Garcia Construction Inc. of San Antonio. This contractor has been doing work for the program since 2011, when Betsy Spencer was the director of the department. The Home Loan Rehabilitation Program is funded through federal Housing and Urban Development dollars and administered through NHCD.

Bonnie McCallister, who lives in South Austin with her husband and three daughters, said that she had been “pondering for three years about what in the world to do” as the problems in their home have continued “nonstop since the ‘completion’ of our renovation.”

After the publication of our story, the department’s current director, Rosie Truelove, said NHCD would be contacting people who reached out to the Monitor and also would contact people whose homes were renovated over the past year. But that might not be far enough back to catch all the problems.

Here is part of what McCallister told the Monitor via email about work done on her house by Camilo Garcia Construction:

The complete inside renovation they did has been an atrocity since day one. From the time my daughter had the bath faucet shoot at her at bullet speed to them not connecting my plumbing in the bathroom sink causing it to pour a wave of water out of the cabinet, to the ridiculous cheap counters already chipped and warped away and doors that are unlevel. My plumbing under my kitchen sink has been molding and leaking ever since it was never redone correctly. My husband noticed they reused all of the old fittings.

They even removed brand new, very nice shower heads and replaced them with shower heads you may find in an older RV. When I asked for them (the subcontractor) said he threw them away, which I highly doubted. They also redid the wrong bathroom and said ‘oh well there isn’t money to do that other one anymore.’

The worst … scariest thing we discovered, is that they capped our dryer vent on the roof causing about 8 ft. of dryer lint mudded down the vent shaft. How our house didn’t catch on fire to me was an act of God. Some of the things that were supposed to be fixed are in as worse shape today as they were before they started! Not to mention, the subcontractor … repeatedly harassed me about wanting to buy certain items from my house that were on my property.

The list goes on and on and on and on. … We have since replaced SO MANY things that they supposedly ‘fixed.’ I am appalled at the mess they left.

After the work was ‘completed,’ I literally spent most of my days with random people coming in and out of my house to go back on things they just never got right as well as my entire next year until the warranty ran out and they said, sorry.

McCallister said she notified the supervisor at NHCD who was supposed to oversee her renovations. When she contacted that person, she said, “He got very snarky when I tried to express my concern.”

McCallister and her husband borrowed $75,000 through the program. Under that agreement, she said, the family will have to stay in the house for 15 years in order for the loan to be forgiven.

The same company was assigned to work on a house owned by Melissa Puntenney under the same program. Her house on Garvey Cove in far South Austin was renovated in 2014 or 2015. She said the total cost for repairs to her house was about $32,000.

She has numerous complaints about the way the repairs were done, or not done. “My biggest complaint in my house was I had Norway roof rats. They were in the attic. And I told them if you don’t get rid of these rats, all this work is going to be for nothing. … So I came home one day and the cabinet guy was there,” in the kitchen. “They had ripped out all of my cabinets and … there were big piles of insulation” that the workers had pulled out. One of those workers pulled out two rats’ nests, and Puntenney said “11 little rats ran out. … And once they pulled out all of the insulation back there, they refused to put more insulation in, even though I said I would go get it and pay for it,” she recalled.

However, “They did finally come back and fix the rat problem … pulled out all the insulation to the attic and that added another $7,000 to my bill.” She estimates that it would cost about $25,000 to fix everything now.

Like McCallister, Puntenney must stay in her home for 15 years from the date of the loan in order for the loan to be forgiven. She said she would like to take out a home equity loan now in order to fix problems either caused by the contractor and his subcontractors or to fix problems that were not addressed by the renovation.

However, the city has a second lien on her house, Puntenney said, which is preventing her from borrowing additional money because lenders want to have a second lien, not a third.

“So they’re binding me into a bad contract and refusing to let me make repairs to my house unless I pay cash for it,” she concluded.

The company did not respond to requests for comment. However, on the Facebook page for Camilo Garcia Construction, the former director of NHCD, Spencer, gave the company a five-star rating. She wrote, “Camilo Garcia and his staff are awesome to work with. Excellent quality and workmanship in everything they do.”

Spencer retired from the city in 2016 after being placed on administrative leave. Shortly after Spencer’s retirement was announced, the director of construction for NHCD, Steve Ritchie, resigned.

An investigation by the Office of the City Auditor revealed that Spencer made numerous decisions in an attempt to shield Ritchie from any punishment resulting from his alleged behavior, including sexual harassment and retaliation.

Spencer and Ritchie are now working together in San Antonio. In another Facebook post on Jan. 2, Spencer announced, “2018 should be a very exciting year. I am proud to say I am now a partner and co-owner in Holtz/Adams Construction and Consulting, LLC.” According to his LinkedIn page, Ritchie is director of construction and development at Holtz/Adams Construction and Consulting. Spencer did not respond to a call to her office.

Truelove said she does not know exactly what the city can do for McCallister and Puntenney, but she said her employees are looking for a solution to the problems outlined by the Monitor.

All of the contracts in this program have been extended to September in order to ensure continuity, Truelove said. She said her department was hoping to start new contracts this summer, but because of problems homeowners are facing, they’re looking at how to revise the contract or to add oversight.

“My goal is to try to take all of the concerns that are being raised and look at how we have this particular contract being structured and make any improvements we can make to keep this from happening in the future,” Truelove said.

Photo by Janis Walker.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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