AUSTIN -- The sink is one kitchen fixture where you expect water to flow, just not underneath.
“We don't use this side,” said Bonnie McCallister, pointing to the left side of her sink.
For three years she has been unable to use half her sink, hardly what she expected when the City approved her for the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development program.
“I thought we were going to get it updated and up to code,” McCallister said.
Instead of improvements, she said she was left with problems.
"The dryer vent they capped with a mesh screen and then a cap on top," she remembered. "So my dryer wasn't working. My husband went on the roof and we had six to eight feet of dryer sludge left over in the vent. I'm surprised my house didn't burn down.”
The City told the Defenders McCallister’s issue was a home maintenance issue and she is to blame. However, McCallister said when she texted and called to complain, the representative from the City stopped responding to her.
Larry Pavia had $72,370 worth of work done on his home through the same program.
“The sink has been repaired like three times,” he said.
Work he says is still not complete nearly a year after it began.
“The faucet handle came off, and I told them the handle had come off at the time they were fixing the drain. Well, they took the handle and I don't know what happened, they never brought it back,” said Pavia.
The City said the contractor was unaware of the handle issue and plans to fix this.
“I feel we're responsible as the agent. Our entire program is, the City is the agent of the property owner. We're there to help them,” said Rosie Truelove, director of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development program for the City of Austin. “Our primary goal is to help people stay in their homes.”
The City has a process to address complaints, one Truelove said is proven to work. Of the 600 people getting help through the agency every year, she said only two have ended up in arbitration.
The Defenders asked: “Do you all come in and send an inspector to look at the work?”
“Absolutely,” said Truelove. “We're there hand-and-glove with the homeowner.”
Inspection reports obtained by the Defenders show that the City did sign off on all the work.
“In my opinion, we are there to take care of them and it sounds like, from what I'm hearing, the ball may have been dropped on a couple of these properties. And we're going to do what we can to get folks in a better place,” said Truelove.
A recent survey of 54 homeowners who have taken part in the program found a high rate of satisfaction in the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development programs.
"I've lived in this house all my life,” said David Botello, who is thrilled with the work the City completed on his home. “They repainted everything. They did the floors, they leveled it. New wiring, new plumbing. It's a life changer.”
It is the same hope McCallister and Pavia had when they signed up for the program.
“I think it's poorly handled,” said McCallister. “Very little oversight. I understand it's a grant, but it’s still taxpayers. People paying money to help other people.”
The Defenders reached out to the contractor. Mirella Glass didn't want to talk on camera but said she stands by her work and is quick to respond to complaints.
The City is working to fix the problems noted by Pavia and McCallister, but they still worry.
The City currently has six contractors working on this program. Those contractors have been paid $3.6 million since 2013.
As a result of these recent complaints, the City is currently updating its contract and plans to include more accountability.
The new bidding process for contractors could begin as soon as the end of the year.