Taxpayer-funded home improvement program ruins homes, wastes money

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A Missouri county spent $450,000 in taxpayer-funded home repairs like new furnaces and windows for residents, KMOX in St. Louis reports. Administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program oversaw work like a roof that ultimately collapsed and what one taxpayer said was $8,000 worth of work for $15,000.

CHRIS NAGUS: How would you like a free air conditioner, furnace, windows, and gutters for your home, courtesy of the taxpayers? One homeowner called me to say this government-funded giveaway screwed up his house, now he wants the county to pay up again, leading us to ask, is this why we're broke?

GARY CROFT: Even though our government did pay for this, our taxpayer money, I don't think it was appropriated right.

NAGUS: Gary Croft is fighting with Jefferson County after the county hired contractors to install an A/C, a furnace and new roof on his mobile home.

CROFT: I didn't think I needed a roof but they thought, since the money was there, use it.

NAGUS: Croft participated in a program administered by HUD, giving him $15,000 worth of taxpayer-funded improvements at no cost to him. But after the crews installed his roof, it collapsed and he's got the pictures to prove it.

CROFT: You can tell it's shoddy work to begin with.

NAGUS: After Croft called me, I was surprised to discover just how many people were getting signed up to this government freebie. His neighbors also got $15,000 worth of stuff.

JAMES JOHNSON: New furnace, air conditioner, duct work, new 200-amp provision all the way to the street, fuse panel, new vapor barrier, and insulation on ho

NAGUS: James Johnson told me he was satisfied with the improvements. He's just glad it wasn't his money.

JOHNSON: I got probably $8,000 worth of work done for $15,000.

NAGUS: Next door, John got a new air conditioner, front door, and windows with the HUD grant. He said the windows were suggested by the county–it was kind of like hitting the jackpot.

JOHNSON: This lady said if you won the lottery, what would you do to your house?

NAGUS: These homeowners say they're on disability, or in the process of applying and couldn’t afford the improvements without taxpayer money. But since some of the repairs were called into question–

CROFT: Suggesting I had new guttering put on here, I didn’t think I needed that.

NAGUS: I went to the county to find out who spends the money, and the bigger question, why?

ROSY BUCHANNAN: Our program is a sustainability program.

NAGUS: Rosy Buchanan oversees the $450,000-a-year program for Jefferson County. She says they don't install anything to improve aesthetics—things like cabinets and carpet. Instead, they focus on health and safety issues and much of it is at the discretion of the homeowner.

BUCHANNAN: we don't like the scope of work, so we don't tell the homeowners what they're going to get. We ask them. The homeowner to me is as much of an advocate as anyone. It's their home, not mine.

NAGUS: As for the fiasco at the Gary Croft home, Buchanan says that’s a first, and it could result in some unintended consequences.

BUCHANNAN: Could it jeopardize the program? Yes. I think it could jeopardize the scope of work that we may be able to do.

NAGUS: Since the roof collapsed, Jefferson County is no longer authorizing new roofs on mobile homes, but Buchanan says the program is still helping homeowners, and despite the issue this time around, she believes it will continue to help people in the future.

BUCHANNAN: I think it is a good program. I believe in it. I believe it gives the opportunity for some persons who might be limited otherwise to take a little responsibility and help themselves instead of just waiting for a handout.

NAGUS: Buchanan tells me they responded immediately when the roof collapsed at Croft's mobile home and at this point it’s in the hands of the insurance company. There will be no additional tax money poured into repairs at his house.

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