Furniture chain makes $12k donation to families affected by Chinese drywall
Furniture retailer Rooms to Go is donating $12,000 worth of furniture to four Belmont Heights families whose homes are blighted with toxic drywall.
The families were told they will each receive a $3,000 store voucher at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting today. They had been stuck for nine years living in government subsidized homes made with Chinese drywall.
Some family members broke down crying at the podium when the donation was announced.
“I am so overwhelmed,” said Edna Spencer. “It’s like a dream come true. We waited for nine years with nowhere to turn.”
The donation is to go toward the cost of new furniture once their homes are rehabbed, which is expected to take up to nine months. During that time the families will stay for free in apartments through a donation from Michaels Development Co, the master developer of Belmont Heights Estates.
"These families did everything the right way, and yet the system failed them,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who approached the furniture chain about making the donation. “We made sure the system righted this wrong."
The four families were among 12 who unknowingly bought the blighted homes in 2008 through a Tampa Housing Authority homeownership program that included down payment assistance from the City of Tampa.
Fumes from the drywall corroded copper and electrical wiring, damaging air-conditioning units and appliances. Some family members complained of nosebleeds, headaches and breathing difficulties.
They were also stuck paying mortgages on homes that were essentially worthless.
After a Tampa Bay Times article highlighted the residents' plight, Hillsborough County commissioners approved spending $205,000, mostly from affordable housing funds, to pay for renovation of the homes and short-term accommodation for the four families.
The plan requires the city to roughly match that amount through a federal grant intended for low-income families to make home repairs. Tampa officials are seeking a contractor to rehab the homes.
Hagan, who led the county’s push for a rescue plan, said he recently met with the women and talked with them at length.
"What really impressed me so much about these women is they have not asked for anything throughout this process,” he said. "They were not down here demanding action or complaining about the hand they were dealt. They were God-fearing women just living their lives."
Staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report