Friday, May 5, 2006
7 News Investigations: Housing Horror
We all remember Hurricane Katrina causing catastrophic flooding in New Orleans. Well here in South Florida, a neighborhood development was also left in high water. But as investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero shows us in tonight's special assignment report, this "Housing Horror" possibly could have been avoided.
WSVN--Last August, Hurricane Katrina took many in South Florida by surprise.
We watched as the storm butchered boats and hammered homes.
And in one new development in South Dade, homeowners watched as the land around their homes flooded.
Buni Perez: "Our houses looked like boat houses. We had waves in our water."
Wendy Morales: "I mean it was unbelievable. We looked like we were in the lake."
In farmland estates, homes were surrounded by about three feet of water.
According to experts, the houses themselves were built high enough to meet county standards but not the property around them.
And while the developer - Golf and Country Club Development Joint Venture - maintains it did nothing wrong, the low elevation has created high anxiety for the people living there.
Jenny Morales: "This was supposed to be a happy time for us and our family and it it's not."
Nine months later, the flooding's over, but the cleanup continues.
There are questions about the quality of the well water and the septic tanks are releasing a horrible stench.
But residents don't just blame the developer, they blame the government.
Buni Perez: "We had all these agencies that were here to protect us as homeowners and they didn't step up."
County and state regulators tell Seven News developers and contractors often work on the honor system during the construction process.
Usually, it's up to them to contact the appropriate agencies, get the proper permits and inspections before selling a house.
But the county says that's not what happened here.
Carlos Espinosa: "It's an unfortunate situation."
Carlos Espinosa is the director of the County Department of Environmental Resource Management.
It is responsible for elevation issues.
Espinosa says the developer included plans to raise the property, but never followed through.
Carlos Espinosa: "All the documents show what he was supposed to do which was to fill those lots to a higher elevation. He didn't do it. He was caught."
Espinosa also says work on other homes in the development has been halted until the property is brought up to the proper elevation.
Meanwhile, the health department is concerned about the wells.
Samir Elmir: "The wells that were built were not permitted, were not approved, were not inspected, were not tested."
As a precaution, the health department has issued a boil water advisory until testing of the wells can be completed.
That's a huge concern for this young mother. She's now buying bottled water.
Denise Berzowski: "Thank God he hasn't been sick, but I have been concerned that I bathe him in the water and of course you know small children like that, they put everything in their mouth."
And then there's the septic tanks.
Samir Emir: "They were installed and permitted by the department, but they were not inspected. So they need to uncover them and make them available for inspections."
Carmel Cafiero: "So what's the developer say about what's going on at Farmland Estates? Nothing on camera. We asked for an interview, but all we got was a statement from an attorney."
In part - it reads:
"...All elements of the new homes built for this project have been completed with the highest standards of quality and compliance with governmental regulations and concerns... Insofar as any allegations of deficiencies in the implementation of septic and water systems; all of the homes were inspected and received the necessary governmental clearance..."
So far about 19 of 31 homes have been brought up to the proper elevation.
If there is any good in all of this, Miami Dade County says it will change its procedures to catch these kinds of problems sooner by demanding documentation and making inspections earlier - rather than at the end of a project.
Jenny Morales: "If I'd be given a choice right now, I would sell my house and leave - go somewhere."
Instead, these neighbors feel trapped inside this housing horror.