Thursday, April 24, 2008
7 News Investigations: Mayor's Mess
Miami-Dade's Section 8 housing program was so poorly run, the federal government has taken control, but that hasn't solved all the problems, and as you'll see in this special assignment report, a South Florida mayor who has made money through the program may be dropped for not keeping up her property. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with the Mayor's Mess.
WSVN -- Lynda Bell: "Good evening, everybody. We will now call this meeting together."
Most people in Homestead know Lynda Bell as the mayor, but the Henley family knows her as the landlord.
Quantisha Henley: "Even though I'm a Section 8 tenant. I'm still human, you know."
Quantisha Henley and her three children live in a home the mayor owns in nearby Naranja. She pays a small part of the rent, the federal government pays the rest through Section 8.
Quantisha Henley: "She's getting free money for me living in a hell hole. Sorry to say it, but we're suffering."
And here's why Henley is so harsh. She says the air conditioning unit has malfunctioned for so long, mold has grown through the wall and into the garage.
Quantisha Henley: "And it's like you clean it, the next day you have to clean it, and I get tired."
She says when the AC is turned on it doesn't cool the air. It just runs for a while and then literally freezes up. She turns it off and the ice melts. All that moisture feeds the mold, which just gets worse. On top of all that, she says, in the winter, the unit doesn't heat.
Quantisha Henley: "This has been since October of last year."
Carmel Cafiero: "No air conditioning?"
Quantisha Henley: "Off and on, but I've been without heat for three years, since I moved here."
And there are other issues, including kitchen cabinets that need repair, a ceiling fan that sparks, a door that doesn't close unless lifted and pushed, and a light fixture that works sometimes when you tap the ceiling with a broom.
Bell has collected $45,000 in rent from the Henley family home, $36,000 from HUD and $9,000 from Quantisha. Records show the property has failed annual inspections twice. Some violations were caused by the tenant, others by the landlord.
Carmel Cafiero: "And it's not the first time Bell has been in trouble with HUD. In 2007, the agency stopped payments after a dispute over repairs, but later determined that stop payment order was in error."
When there was a delay in getting that payment, Bell wrote in an e-mail to HUD saying, "Now, I have had just about enough, my next stop is the local congressional delegation and the Miami Herald."
The mayor got her money, but now Section 8 has cut off payments to Bell again. This time for failure to make repairs including the AC unit.
Carmel Cafiero: "Hi, mayor. Carmel Cafiero Channel 7, how are you?"
Bell refused a request for an on-camera interview, and, when we caught up with her at city hall, she ignored my questions.
Carmel Cafiero: "And don't you think, as a public official, you ought to answer our questions. I mean, have you seen the conditions at this house? Have you seen the mold and mildew?"
In a phone interview, the mayor told us she's made many repairs and blamed Quanitsha for the conditions saying she is trashing the house, but the government is moving the Henley's to another Section 8 property.
Quantisha Henley: "We don't have fresh air to breathe that's coming from the AC. She's going home to fresh air, and, when it's cold, she can warm up, but we can't."
Quantisha says she'll be glad to finally be rid of the Mayor's Mess. The entire family is looking forward to being warm in the winter and cool in the summer.