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Jan 28, 2015 11:08 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Southampton Town Struggling To Close $100,000 Assistance Project

Jan 28, 2015 11:25 AM

Having committing nearly $100,000 in state grant money to the renovation of a severely handicapped woman’s house, Southampton Town and its Housing Authority are scrambling to negotiate an agreement between contractors hired to do the work and the home’s owner before the grant expires and the money is lost.

The homeowner, Frances Kirshman, has been unsatisfied with some of the work done as part of an extensive renovation of her house to make it handicapped accessible, and has refused to sign off on a lien related to state-issued Community Development Block Grant funding that the town’s Housing Authority committed to the project.

Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato has taken over negotiation of an agreement for some changes to the house by the contractor, the West Islip firm Murtha Construction, so that Ms. Kirshman will sign off on the grant agreement before it expires this week.

“We are in the midst of resolving the situation and hope to have it resolved in a way that is favorable to all involved,” Ms. Scarlato said last week, though she declined to discuss details of the negotiations or the original arrangement for the work.

Housing Authority Executive Director Curtis Highsmith declined to discuss the project at Ms. Kirshman’s house until the negotiations are settled.

The project dedicated the lion’s share of the CDBG money the town received in 2013 to the renovation of Ms. Kirshman’s house, which included extensive improvement to the kitchen, bathroom and living spaces, as well as new decking and a mechanical staircase lift. Ms. Kirshman is quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair.

Each year, local towns receive Community Development Block Grant funds from the State Department of Housing and Urban Development. The local allocation of the funds is overseen by Suffolk County, which must sign off on any grants awarded by the towns.

In some years, Southampton Town’s grant allocations have reached nearly $400,000. The town may use up to 10 percent of the grants to assist local not-for-profit organizations. In Southampton, the remainder is given to the Housing Authority for use in housing assistance programs.

The bulk of the housing grants have traditionally been dedicated to helping low-income homeowners complete renovations and upgrades to keep their houses livable, such as replacing roofing, electrical work or water heaters. In 2013, the town had about $120,000 for the housing improvement projects.

The CDBG money is allocated as no-interest loans, on a first-come-first-served basis. Would-be recipients must apply for the grants and demonstrate a need for the improvements and an income level that qualifies them for the state aid. State bylaws allow that the money can be given as a gift, but since the Housing Authority took over the administration of the grants, all the CDBG grants have been awarded as no-interest loans with a lien placed on the property to recoup the money for the program.

Former Housing Authority Director Richard Blowes said that some of the funding dedicated to Ms. Kirshman’s house was money recouped from past grant liens.

Ms. Kirshman was not asked to sign off on the lien before the work began and has refused to do so until the work at the house is done to her satisfaction, according to sources in Town Hall.

“The Housing Authority had their paperwork screwed up and didn’t get the lien on the house before they did the work,” said a town official with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Then the work got botched, which was partly the contractor’s fault, partly the Housing Authority’s, and partly Ms. Kirshman. There has been a lot of back and forth about what work was done and how it was done.”

An attorney for Ms. Kirsham, Frank Napoli, declined to comment on the matter.

The work was initially projected to cost about $50,000 but ballooned to more than $100,000 as the need for more improvements were discovered. Murtha Construction won the contract for the work with a $104,000 bid for the bulk of the renovation, and the Housing Authority agreed to contribute some work using its own maintenance crew. Both the Housing Authority board of directors and Suffolk County signed off on the project plans before work began.

Mr. Blowes, who was the head of the housing program when the project at Ms. Kirshman’s house began, said that the project had been an ambitious but not atypical CDBG home improvement project. Mr. Blowes, who resigned from the Housing Authority last spring, maintained this week that the project was a worthwhile one that simply got bogged down in missteps and disagreements.

“Even $100,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to what it would cost if Ms. Kirshman had to be moved to an assisted living facility,” Mr. Blowes said. “She deserves to be able to remain in her home, and if that can be accomplished, that is the purpose of those funds. I feel bad for her—if anything could have gone wrong, it went wrong.”

Murtha Construction owner Michael Murtha said that much of the difficulty with the work was due to Ms. Kirshman’s dissatisfaction with components of the project that had been presented to her and agreed to, but that she later found unacceptable once they were installed in the home.

“I’ve been doing this work my entire life,” Mr. Murtha said, adding that his firm has absorbed several thousand in unforeseen costs because of numerous changes made in the renovations—and that if a settlement is not reached and the grant money secured, his company would be on the hook for $100,000. “This has really been a nightmare.”

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Mr. R. Blowes name always appears when a problem with the town is found.
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Jan 29, 15 10:57 AM
Don't get on Rick Blowes case -- he's a very squared away guy who knows the Town's finances better than anyone,

> "Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato has
> taken over negotiation of an agreement

O that'll work!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jan 29, 15 11:07 AM
The same Richard Blowes that was in charge of the town justice court construction two years ago, as chief1 notes below? No Health permits and big cost overruns? That one? (BTW, the chief and marlinspike are right on this time.)

The same Richard Blowes who, as Town Management Administrator, promised figures on project costs to then-Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst for almost an entire year and NEVER delivered? That one? (Under the 2/25/09 piece in 27east, a poster named Turkey Bridge ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jan 30, 15 12:55 AM
> "Please, Mr. Wheeler, give us a break!"

I'm sorry, but I don't know what that means. "A break" from what, Mr. T. "One Note" Bridge? THAT is what many here need a break from!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jan 30, 15 1:53 AM
Who wasn't managing this job to be sure the paperwork was in order and it was done on time and on budget? $100,000 for one person?
By moonpie (43), Southampton on Jan 29, 15 11:16 AM
The same Richard Blowes that was in charge of the town justice court construction? The one with no Health Dept permits, and costing millions for a bunch of mobile homes? I thought this guy retired three years ago.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 29, 15 12:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
Glad they supported the local economy by hiring a firm from West Islip. I hope at least they were licensed in the Town.. Can't fix stupid.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jan 29, 15 1:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
The lady got 100k of grant money, and she's not happy? Why the hell are we in the business of fixing peoples house's? The lady could of taken a reverse mortgage, fixed her house, and lived happily ever after. We don't need a bunch of bureaucrats making a 100k a year trying to put together a home renovation project. We don't need to give out under market homes. We need to work hard build the American dream, and for the govt to get out of the way.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 29, 15 3:06 PM
Indeed, it pains me to agree with Turkey Bridge and chief1, but Blowes has no business doing what the private sector can do so much better. He has been in government his entire life. He thinks he can turn himself into Donald Trump east with his Housing Authority. There is no room for this crap at a town level.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jan 30, 15 3:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
The vitriol regarding the aid rendered to a paraplegic is simply such an outstanding example of commonwealth, caring, and egalitarian values. NOT. Just when I thought I couldn't be more disgusted, here the lot of you are.

Would you like to throw strollers under a bus next? Or perhaps mug little old ladies?

Same old idiotic argument of the private sector doing things better. The problem is PEOPLE, not government. In fact, isn't the deregulation and removal of government authority ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 30, 15 4:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Trite talking points? The town housing authority has a bunch of political favorites working there making a ton of money. We don't need to have goverment interfering with home improvement projects being run by beaurocrats
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 31, 15 12:52 AM
I'm not against grants. I am against goverment making a business to employ political hacks. The private sector can do much better than a bunch of know nothing unemployable, knit wits.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 31, 15 9:25 PM