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January 12, 2014

Latta woman: Construction problems at heart of dispute with housing program

Ada — Amy Melton and her partner, Susan Reed, wanted to build a house in Latta for their family.

But Melton said the family’s dream house turned into a nightmare after they signed up with the Tri-County Mutual Self-Help housing program in Ada, which helps low-income families build new homes.

Melton said Friday that the program took several shortcuts in building the home, which resulted in major structural deficiencies that made the house unlivable. She added that program officials appear reluctant to address those problems.

“What’s most disheartening about it is, everybody makes mistakes, but it’s their denial of the mistakes that’s the problem,” she said.

Tri-County’s housing coordinator, Carolyn Hill, declined Friday to comment for this story.

Flawed construction

Melton bought the property in Latta for $20,500, using money that she earned from selling necklaces for her 15-year-old disabled daughter, Brittany. She later obtained a construction loan from the federal government.

That’s where Tri-County comes in. The government-funded organization works with eligible families to help them apply for a home mortgage from USDA Rural Development, and it assists them in acquiring a suitable site for their home.

The organization also provides technical assistance as participants build their new homes, using “sweat equity” as their down payment.

Melton said she did not require Tri-County’s assistance in locating land for the house or dealing with credit issues. She added that Tri-County’s emphasis on helping homeowners help themselves appealed to her because she could use her carpentry skills to build the home.

Construction of Melton’s home began in July 2013, and she started noticing problems with the frame the following month. As a carpenter, she knew that the problems were significant.

Tri-County officials conducted two routine inspections while the home was under construction, but they rarely cited any problems that needed fixing, Melton said.

“They went through the motions of doing what they were supposed to do,” she said.

She said framing contractors came out to address those problems but rarely fixed them properly.

The house was finished in December and Tri-County officials declared the home was ready for occupancy after a final inspection, but Melton discovered that the structural problems remained.

Kevin Postoak, a licensed building code inspector, performed an independent inspection on Melton’s behalf on Jan. 5. His report noted several problems throughout the house, including:

• The rafters were not connected to the ceiling joists, and there were no roof rafter ties.

• One of the rafters had a large crack which needed repair.

• Several ceiling joists were missing brackets.

• Carbon monoxide detectors had not been installed.

• There were no expansion joints in the exterior brick.

Melton said Postoak’s findings indicate the house does not meet local or state building code requirements  and she cannot close on her federal loan until the problems are fixed.

“So for my family it is uninhabitable,” she said.

The family is living in a nearby rental property and Melton is keeping her tools in three storage buildings. She said she is spending more than $1,000 a month on rent and utilities.

She said she had originally planned to use her own money to build a carpentry shed next to the house but her problems with Tri-County forced her to shelve those plans.

Melton eventually contacted Tommy Earls, acting director of USDA Rural Development’s single-family housing programs in Oklahoma, about her dispute with Tri-County. Earls emailed her on Thursday to say he had received a copy of Postoak’s inspection report and reviewed it with other Rural Development officials.

Melton read a reporter a copy of Earls’ email, in which he asked Melton if she wanted to keep the house or sell it. He said if she decided to fix the problems and keep the house, she should send him a complete list of those items.

Melton said she hasn’t decided whether she wants to keep the house, in light of the problems that Postoak identified.

“That’s the part when I don’t know if that’s best for my family, just because this is home and this is what we want, if it’s best to go into the unknown,” she said. “Because there’s no way of knowing what kind of problems there are that we can’t see, and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with that.”

Earls did not return a phone message seeking comment Friday afternoon.

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