Troubleshooter: USDA Loan

November 1, 2010 3:57:25 PM PDT
Last October, Rose Bledsoe got a grant and loan from the USDA Rural Development program for more than $13,000. The program is designed to help low income residents make health and safety improvements to their home, and Bledsoe needed a new heat and air conditioning system along with other repairs.

Rose's daughter helped her through the process.

"Two contractors came out and put in bids on it," recalled daughter Catherine Pruitt.

Raney Hester, of Hester and Son Home Improvements, installed a new heating and air unit, but there were problems.

"When he finished, the heat coming out wasn't hot," said Pruitt.

And that wasn't all. After Hester did $6,600 worth of other home repairs, Bledsoe was left with issues with her new kitchen floor, railings, outside work, and even a storm door installed backwards.

An inspector with USDA grant program approved the work before Hester was paid more than $13,000. But the heat still didn't work.

"She kept calling and calling and I kept telling her 'Mom, you have to get him to fix it," said Pruitt.

Bledsoe says Hester returned to work on the system between 10 and 12 times, but the fixes didn't work. Hester brought space heaters, but they didn't heat the whole house.

That's when Pruitt started making some phone calls.

"I called the builder inspector and found out he didn't get a permit from the county," she said. "Then I found out he didn't have a license."

That's right. Raney Hester is not licensed to do the HVAC, yet the USDA found him and he was paid with government funds to do the job.

Pruitt says she reached out to the USDA for help, but got nowhere.

"I don't understand how they've treated Mama. It really bothers me. She has a right. She might be 80-years-old, but she has a right to be treated as a human being, and also if she pays for it, it should work," said Pruitt.

And Bledsoe is paying for it. Even though the rest of her home repairs were covered by the federal grant, the heating and air system is part of the $7,500 low interest government loan she's been paying on since last November - even though she had no heat last winter and no air this summer.

So Bledsoe and Pruitt called on ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team Troubleshooter Diane Wilson for help. We got in touch with the USDA. It took some time, but a licensed HVAC company was at Bledsoe's door with a brand new - and working - heating and air conditioning unit.

"Just to have heat it will be good," said Bledsoe.

But that's not quite good enough for her daughter.

"An 80-year-old woman shouldn't have to go through the winter without heat and through a hot summer that we had without air," said Pruitt.

As for the other work that needed fixing. We called Hester and he fixed it.

The USDA told ABC11 that they just provided the funding - that Bledsoe hired the contractor and it had no idea he wasn't licensed to do the work.

In fact, the USDA says it's used him for other jobs.

But Bledsoe, her daughter, and even Raney Hester himself, refute that. Hester told ABC11 that not only did the government hire him, but that the USDA told him not to fix the problems until ABC11 started calling.

As for not being licensed or getting the proper permits, Hester blames that on a subcontractor he says he didn't know wasn't licensed.

Finally, Bledsoe is left to pay interest on the original $7,000 HVAC unit loan - even though the new working unit only cost $5,000.

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