Article Courtesy of The
Tampa Bay Times
By Christopher O’Donnell
Published May 17, 2018
TAMPA — It’s the same front door on the same street.
But for Valentine Hendrix, it’s a new start.
For nine years, the Belmont Heights home she bought through a government program
was beset by fumes from toxic Chinese drywall. By 2016, her air-conditioner was
beyond repair and she was working two jobs to pay a $79,000 mortgage on an
essentially worthless home.
Now, after more than a year in temporary
housing, Hendrix and three other families whose properties
were also blighted are returning to homes that were
rehabilitated through a rescue plan put together by local
There are no more fumes or sulfurous smells, no blackened
wiring or failed appliances.
"This was all falling down; this was a mess," said Hendrix,
53, as she showed off her like-new home. "I’m so happy."
The four families celebrated their return home this week
with a street barbecue attended by Hillsborough County
Commissioner Ken Hagan, who led calls for the county to take
action after a 2016 Tampa Bay Times investigation exposed
the plight of the four families.
The county and the city of Tampa combined to raise about
$380,000 through housing grants to pay for the repairs,
which required the removal and replacement of drywall,
plumbing and wiring. The Tampa Housing Authority and Belmont
Heights developer Michaels Development Co. provided
temporary housing for the families.
"This is definitely something we can be very proud of,"
Hagan said. "Government is frequently at fault; we can be
proud that we righted the wrong for these homeowners."
Owning her own home was a long-time ambition for Edna
Spencer, a social worker with the Florida Department of
Children and Families.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, right,
hugs Valentine Hendrix after taking a tour of her Belmont Heights
house on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, in Tampa. Hendrix returned recently
to her government subsidized home after three local government
agencies financed a rescue plan to clean her house of toxic drywall.
It quickly turned to disaster. Drywall fumes eroded her
air-conditioner until it finally broke down for good. Her son suffered
respiratory problems. Her $175,000 home was valued at $7,000 because of the
defective building material.
Her son’s health improved as soon as she moved into temporary accommodation.
And she was delighted to be back in a home that feels brand new. She and the
other families each received a donation of a $3,000 voucher from Rooms To Go
to buy new furniture.
"This is a blessing to us," she said. "There was no way we were going to fix
In all, 12 homes in the Belmont Heights redevelopment project built around
2006 were known to be constructed with defective drywall from China, which
marred an estimated 100,000 U.S. homes built during last decade’s boom and
With down payment help from federal and city grants, the families were
encouraged by the Housing Authority to take out mortgages for new homes that
cost up to $175,000.
Within months, light fixtures and wall sockets stopped working.
Air-conditioning units kept breaking down. The families’ health suffered too
with residents complaining of headaches, rashes, nosebleeds and breathing
Eight of the 12 families walked away from their homes, which went into
foreclosure. Most of those were bought by developers, rehabilitated and
Those that remained got little help for years.
The Housing Authority learned about the problem as early as 2010, records
show. It said Michaels Development should fix the homes.
BACK STORY Rescue plan formulated for families stuck with toxic drywall
Michaels said the blame lay with Banner Homes of Florida, which it hired to
build the homes. At that point, Banner had been bankrupt for at least three
Their long shared ordeal has made friends out the four families who now look
out for each other.
At the barbecue, donated by 4 Rivers Smokehouse, there were hugs and smiles
as they showed off their homes to each other and to friends and relatives.
Hendrix is already drawing up plans for how she will decorate the hallway
with pictures of her children and grandchildren.
In her living room, she has hung a wooden sign that simply says, "Blessed."